The aorta is the main artery of the body. It originates from the heart and extends down into the abdomen. The aorta is responsible for distributing blood to the whole body. Aortic dissection is a serious medical condition in which the inner layer of the aorta tears, allowing blood to flow in between the layers, forcing them apart. In many cases, aortic dissection can cause rupture of the aorta, and death.
Aortic dissection is not a common medical condition. It typically occurs in men above the age of 60 with other underlying medical conditions. Chronic high blood pressure increases the risk of aortic dissection because it means constant pressure on the aorta, making it more susceptible to tears. Atherosclerosis also increases the risk of aortic dissection. Other risk factors involve conditions of weakened or enlarged aorta such as Marfan syndrome, bicuspid aortic valve, or other rare conditions. There is evidence that repeated cocaine use may also increase the risk of aortic dissection because it temporarily raises blood pressure. High intensity weight-lifting is another activity which may increase the risk because it raises blood pressure. Rarely, pregnant women will experience aortic dissection in an otherwise healthy pregnancy.
Symptoms of aortic dissection can mimic those of a heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common signs and symptoms experienced by people with aortic dissection include:
When an aortic dissection is detected and treated right away, the chance of survival improves. Left untreated, it can lead to other serious medical conditions, and death. According to the Mayo Clinic, aortic dissection may lead to:
Because symptoms of aortic dissection mimic those of other, more frequent medical conditions, it may be difficult to diagnose. Telltale signs of an aortic dissection which may help the doctor set it apart from a heart attack include blood pressure differences between the two arms, widening of the aorta on an x-ray, and the ripping sensation that the patient feels. Your doctor may order the following tests:
Depending on the location and severity of aortic dissection, treatment may differ. The two main options, though, are medication and surgery. In surgery, the torn segment of the aorta is removed. The aorta may need to be reconstructed using a synthetic tube— also known as a graft. In some cases, the aortic valve may need to be replaced as well. If the tear occurs only in the descending aorta or the arch (known as Type B aortic dissection), a stent may be used to repair the aorta. Medications to reduce heart rate and blood pressure may be used when aortic dissection is diagnosed. The objective is to prevent aortic dissection from getting worse. Medications may include beta blockers, vasodilators, and calcium channel blockers.
If you are at risk for aortic dissection, talk to your doctor about things you can do to lower your risk. These are the steps you can take at home to lower your risk:
If you have a family history of aortic dissection, let your doctor know. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and conditions like aortic dissection.
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