Aortic Dissection

What is an Aortic Dissection?

An aortic dissection is a rare but life-threatening condition in which the inner wall of the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body, tears.

The part of the aorta that leaves the heart and goes up towards the neck is referred to as the "ascending aorta," which connects to the "aortic arch" that supplies blood to the head and brain. After the aortic arch, it connects to what is called the "descending aorta," which extends toward the abdomen.

Treatment for an aortic dissection depends on whether it is in the ascending or descending aorta.

Risk Factors

  • Age (60 to 80 years old; more common in men than women)
  • Hypertension
  • Preexisting thoracic aortic aneurysm
  • Bicuspid aortic valve
  • Trauma
  • Genetic connective tissue disorders (such as Marfan syndrome)
  • Inflammatory disease (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis and giant cell arteritis)


  • Acute onset of severe, knife-like chest, back and/or abdominal pain
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Weakness, numbness or coolness in arms and legs

Diagnosis and Tests

If your physician suspects that you have an aortic dissection, he or she may order the following tests to evaluate and monitor your condition:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Computed tomographic (CT) angiography of the chest, abdomen and pelvis


  • Emergency open aortic dissection repair (if diagnosed as an ascending aortic dissection)
  • Thoracic endovascular aortic repair (TEVAR) or open aortic dissection repair (if diagnosed as a descending aortic dissection)