Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection is a rare, serious condition that involves the largest blood vessel in the body.

The aorta is made up of three layers: the inner layer (tunica intima), the middle layer (tunica media), and the outer layer (tunica adventitia). An aortic dissection occurs when blood breaks through the inner layer and ends up between two layers.

It can also lead to the widening of the aorta, which is commonly referred to as an aneurysm.

Causes of Aortic Dissection

Hardening of the arteries, also known as arteriosclerosis
Congenital heart defects
Defects that begin during fetal development
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
An inherited disorder marked by loose joints, easily bruised skin, and easily damaged blood vessels
High blood pressure (hypertension)
A condition that makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body and can cause the heart to fail if not treated
Marfan syndrome
The most common inherited disorder of the connective tissue
Medical procedure
The problem develops following insertion of a catheter or during surgery
The condition happens through injury, such as puncture or laceration during an automobile or industrial accident or gunshot wound

Aortic Dissection Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Decreased sensation
  • Nausea
  • Pale skin (pallor)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Sudden and sharp chest or back pain
  • Sweating

Diagnosis of Aortic Dissection

Your UT Southwestern Medical Center doctor will use several tests to determine the problem. Common diagnostic tests include:

Aortic angiography
To visualize the aorta
Blood pressure measurement
To detect low blood pressure
Chest X-ray or ultrasound
To see aortic abnormality (wide aorta)
CT scan with dye
Same as X-ray
To hear aortic murmur, weak pulses at extremities

Aortic Dissection Treatment Options

Depending on the severity of the problem, aortic dissections can be treated in a number of ways, including:

  • Aortic valve replacement, if necessary
  • Beta-blockers
  • Drugs that lower blood pressure (anti-hypertensives)
  • Pain relievers
  • Surgery to replace the damaged aorta with a graft

Request an Appointment

For an appointment at UT Southwestern's facilities in Dallas or for more information about our angina services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.