What is aortic dissection?

Your aorta is the large artery that arises from the left lower chamber of the heart and provides oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. This blood vessel is made up of three layers. In certain circumstances, a tear develops in the inner layer. When this occurs, the aorta then bleeds into itself through the middle layer, extending this tear and leads to a separation of the layers of the aorta – known as aortic dissection.

What are the causes of aortic dissection?

Risk factors for aortic dissection include:

  • High blood pressure
  • The presence of an aneurysm
  • Atherosclerosis (or buildup of plaque in the arteries)
  • Certain genetic conditions like a bicuspid aortic valve
  • Connective tissue diseases (such as Marfan syndrome) which run in families
  • Traumatic injury after a car crash or from a high fall
  • Family history of aortic dissection

What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

When dissection first occurs and the layers of the aorta are forced apart, it usually feels like a severe, sharp, tearing pain in your chest and back. It feels like your aorta is ripping apart. Other symptoms include

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Rapid weak pulse
  • Symptoms of stroke

Aortic dissection is life threatening. About 40 percent of patients die immediately from complete rupture and bleeding out from the aorta. The risk of dying can be as high as one to three percent per hour until the patient gets treatment. If you have symptoms of aortic dissection, severe chest pain, symptoms of stroke, call 911 or seek emergency care.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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