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Aortic Dissection

An aortic dissection is a dangerous condition that occurs when a tear develops in the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart.

When an aortic dissection is detected early and treated promptly, your chance of survival greatly improves. Inova Heart and Vascular Institute has the expertise and experience to treat this this complex condition.

There are two types of aortic dissections:

  • Type A: This is the more common and dangerous type of aortic dissection. It involves a tear in the ascending portion of the aorta just where it exits the heart, or a tear extending from the ascending portion down to the descending portion of the aorta. This tear may extend into the abdomen.
  • Type B: This type involves a tear in the descending aorta only, which also may extend into the abdomen

What are the causes of aortic dissection?

Aortic dissection occurs in a weakened area of the aortic wall.  Risk factors may include:

  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Inherited conditions associated with a weakened and enlarged aorta
  • Trauma


What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

Symptoms of aortic dissection are similar to those of a heart attack and begin suddenly. They include:

  • Sudden severe chest or upper back pain, often described as a tearing, ripping or shearing sensation, that radiates down the back
  • Loss of consciousness (fainting)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sudden onset of leg pain with compromised blood flow

Which diagnostic tests are ordered for aortic dissection?

When an aortic dissection is suspected, it is usually an emergency condition requiring prompt diagnosis and testing. Specific tests your vascular surgeon may order include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Echocardiogram

How is aortic dissection treated?

Our strategy is to identify people who are at high risk for an aortic dissection through screening. If patients are diagnosed, we monitor them regularly and treat them before complications develop as overtime a tear can affect a patient’s brain, lungs, arms, legs, and heart.

Aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated immediately.

Treatment for aortic dissection depends on the type of dissection:

  • For type A (descending) dissections, emergency treatment is required due to the possibility of a heart attack. Traditional open heart surgery is usually the treatment; this involves opening the chest and repairing and/or replacing the torn aorta.
  • For type B (descending) dissections, treatment needed is depending on the circumstances. If the dissection is chronic, it might cause an aortic aneurysm. To treat the aortic aneurysm, minimally invasive stent grafts or open heart surgery can be required.

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