Your descending aorta is the longest part of your aorta (the largest artery in your body). It begins after your left subclavian artery branches from your aortic arch, and it extends downward into your belly. It’s called your descending thoracic aorta until it reaches your diaphragm. Then it’s called your descending abdominal aorta.
Your descending aorta is the longest part of your aorta, which is the largest artery in your body. It carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart through your chest and abdomen (belly). It also branches off into smaller arteries in many places to supply blood to other parts of your body.
Your descending aorta is one continuous artery that extends through your chest and belly. But its name changes depending on where it’s located. You can compare it to a street that changes names when it crosses from one town into another.
When your descending aorta passes through your chest, it’s called your descending thoracic aorta. “Thoracic” is a medical term for something that’s related to your thorax (your chest).
When your aorta reaches your diaphragm, it changes names. Below your diaphragm, it’s called your descending abdominal aorta. This is the part that travels through your upper belly and ends near your belly button.
No, they’re not the same. Your thoracic aorta refers to the section of your aorta that travels through your chest. It includes several distinct parts:
Your descending aorta refers to the part of your aorta that extends downward from your aortic arch. It travels through your chest (descending thoracic aorta) and your belly (descending abdominal aorta).
So, your thoracic aorta and your descending aorta aren’t the same. But your thoracic aorta includes part of your descending aorta.
Your ascending aorta curves upward from your heart and leads to the aortic arch. It’s located only in your chest. Your descending aorta curves downward on the other side of your aortic arch. It extends from your chest down into your belly.
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Your descending aorta plays a vital role in supplying your body with oxygen-rich blood. It’s the main artery that carries blood through your chest and belly. Many smaller arteries branch from your descending aorta to carry blood to your organs and tissues.
Your descending aorta and its branches supply blood to your:
Your descending aorta begins in your chest at the end of your aortic arch. It starts just after the point where your left subclavian artery branches from your aorta. This is around the level of your fourth thoracic vertebra (spinal bone), midway down your spine. From there, it travels down through your chest and diaphragm, then into your belly.
Your descending aorta ends near your belly button. There, it splits into two arteries called your right and left common iliac arteries. Scientists call this intersection (which looks like an upside-down Y) the aortic bifurcation. That’s because your aorta splits into two new paths for blood flow. Your common iliac arteries then split into other branches that supply blood to your legs and feet.
Your descending aorta has many branches that supply blood to different parts of your body.
Branches of your descending thoracic aorta (in your chest) include:
Branches of your descending abdominal aorta (in your belly) include:
The entire aorta is a cane-shaped artery. It begins with the ascending aorta and aortic arch, which form the cane’s handle. The descending aorta is the first straight segment of the aorta, beginning right after the arch.
The diameter of your aorta varies based on your age, body surface area and sex assigned at birth. But researchers agree these are the normal values:
The descending aorta has three layers of tissue:
Aortic aneurysms are the most common condition affecting the descending aorta. An aneurysm is a bulge or swelling in an artery, resulting from a weak spot in the artery’s wall. Types of aneurysms that can affect your descending aorta include:
If you have an aneurysm in your descending aorta, your healthcare provider will monitor it over time. If it grows too large, you may need treatment to prevent a life-threatening complication, such as:
Aneurysm ruptures and aortic dissections need immediate medical attention.
Other conditions that may affect your descending aorta include:
It’s essential to know that descending aorta conditions may cause no symptoms. So, you may not know anything’s wrong until you have a medical emergency. That’s why it’s important to visit your healthcare provider for regular checkups so your provider can notice early signs of aortic disease.
An aneurysm in your descending aorta may not cause symptoms until it’s close to rupturing. Warning signs before a rupture can include:
An aneurysm rupture or dissection is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you experience these symptoms:
Healthcare providers diagnose descending aorta conditions through imaging tests. These may include:
Your healthcare provider will monitor your condition and recommend treatment if needed. Treatment options for aneurysms in your descending aorta include:
You may be able to prevent or delay aortic disease by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle. Tips include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your descending aorta plays a vital role in helping blood flow throughout your body. That’s why it’s important to do whatever you can to keep your aorta healthy. Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising and avoiding tobacco products can help you avoid aortic disease. It’s also important to visit your healthcare provider for yearly checkups.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/09/2022.
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