Aortic Disease

Aortic Disease

What is it?

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. When the aorta becomes damaged or loses its ability to contract and relax as blood is pumped through it, an aneurysm can develop. An aneurysm is a weakened spot in the walls of the vessel. If it bursts, blood can escape from the aorta, creating a life threatening situation. An aortic aneurysm is often silent. If a tear is causing the aneurysm, a person may feel pressure or pain in the chest that radiates to the back.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

An aneurysm of the aorta may develop as a result of diseased aortic tissue, a tear in the aorta’s inner walls, an accident, injury or infection. A tear occurs within the layers of the tissue which allow blood to leak into the middle layer of the aortic wall.  If this happens, it puts the most pressure on its walls and lacks support from nearby structures. It is life threatening and requires emergency surgery. 

When the weak spot in the aorta becomes enlarged, it is called ballooning or dilation. When the area gets to 4.0 centimeters in size, it is called an aneurysm. No matter how an enlargement of the aorta is defined or what its size is, it is a sign of disease and needs treatment. Any enlargement of the aorta needs to be watched.

A person should be examined to see if he or she has an aortic aneurysm if he or she has:

  • Pressure or pain in the chest that radiates to the back
  • Been in a severe car accident
  • Been a pedestrian who was struck by a car
  • Fallen a high place
  • Diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome or any connective tissue disorder that affects the heart
  • Diagnosed with any type of infection or inflammatory condition that affects the heart and blood vessels
  • Diagnosed with high blood pressure
  • Is or has been a smoker

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing is the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests such as:

Other tests may include nuclear medicine and adenosine thallium myocardial viability to see if there are any pre-existing coronary artery problems.

Treatment of an aneurysm will depend on how large it is and the person's general health, among other factors. Lifestyle changes or medicine may reduce the pressure on the aortic walls. When the risk of a ruptured aorta is greater than the risk of surgery, surgery is done to replace the diseased section of the aorta. If necessary, the aortic valve may be either repaired or replaced.

After treatment, it is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle and maintain blood pressure, an optimum weight, good dental hygiene, get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular