An aortic tear or aortic dissection is a serious condition, in which a tear in the artery wall occurs. When the tear extends further along the wall of the aorta, blood can enter in between the layers of the aortic wall (dissection). This can lead to an aortic rupture or decreased blood flow to organs.
Symptoms associated with an aortic tear include:
Sharp stabbing pain
Pain in the chest and shoulder blade
Pain that goes between the legs and arms
There are some factors which put individuals at a higher risk of developing an aortic tear. These factors and conditions can include:
Bicuspid aortic valve
Narrowing of the aorta
Connective tissue disorders and rare genetic disorders
Swelling of the blood vessels
Where do aortic tears occur?
The aorta exits the heart carrying oxygenated blood, it travels up through the chest towards the head (the ascending aorta) and then arches, and travels down through the chest and into the abdomen (the descending aorta). Usually an aortic dissection is the result of a tear or damage to the inner wall of the aorta. Most often this occurs in the chest part of the artery, but can happen in the abdominal aorta.
When the aorta tears, it creates 2 channels, one in which blood continues to travel and another where blood stays still.
If the channel with non-traveling blood swells, it can press on other branches of the aorta. This can narrow the other branches and reduce the ability for blood flow through them.
An aortic dissection may also cause abnormal widening or ballooning of the aorta (this is called an aortic aneurysm).
If the aortic tear prevents sufficient blood flow to other areas of the body other symptoms can result:
Anxiety and a feeling of doom
Fainting or dizziness
Nausea and vomiting
Rapid, weak pulse
Shortness of breath and trouble breathing when lying flat
The cause of aortic tears is unknown. It can occur at any age, but is most commonly seen in men aged between 40-70 years old. Around 2 in 10,000 people will be affected by this condition. Here are some conditions that are thought to be linked with an aortic tear:
High blood pressure
Trauma to the chest
An aortic tear is a life-threatening condition so must be treated immediately. Tears in the descending aorta may be able to be treated with medication but most require surgery. The surgery for this condition can be performed in two different ways; standard open heart surgery, which involves making an opening in the chest or via an endoscopic aortic repair, which is done through small incisions using a camera and special equipment.
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.