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Aortic dissection is a tear in the inner aortic wall, which is made up of three layers. Blood then flows into the middle layer of the aorta, causing it to dissect from the inner layer. If the aorta ruptures, the condition can be fatal. Aortic dissection is less common than aortic aneurysm, but an existing aneurysm can lead to dissection. It is most common among men 60 to 70 years old.

There are two types of aortic dissection:

  • Type A occurs in the upper or ascending part of the aorta. It is the most common type of aortic dissection, and can be life-threatening, requiring emergency surgery. 
  • Type B occurs in the lower or descending part of the aorta that extends into the abdomen. This type can sometimes be controlled with medication and close monitoring.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of developing aortic dissection:

  • Existing Aortic Aneurysm
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Other connective tissue disorders
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Bicuspid aortic valve
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Trauma or Injury

Symptoms

Symptoms may include severe, sharp constant pain in the chest or back that may migrate to other areas. It may feel like a ripping or tearing. Fainting and a sudden loss of blood pressure can also indicate a potentially life-threatening aortic dissection.

Treatments

A Type A aortic dissection likely needs emergency surgical repair. Type B aortic dissection may be treated first with medicines and close observation.

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