What is an Aortic Dissection?
Dr. Loay Kabbani, a Vascular Surgeon at Henry Ford Health discusses aortic dissection, what causes it and how to prevent it.
Serious chest injuries and certain health conditions can create a tear in the aorta, the body’s main artery. An aortic dissection requires immediate attention from skilled surgeons with experience evaluating and treating this potentially life-threatening emergency.
Put your care in the hands of experienced vascular disease specialists at Henry Ford Health. We offer the latest advancements in cardiac imaging, minimally invasive procedures and open surgery to repair aortic dissections and prevent complications.
We’re one of only two programs in southeast and south central Michigan dedicated to aortic disease. Our Multidisciplinary Aorta Program provides a level of care not found at other hospitals.
As the largest artery, the aorta carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to smaller arteries that run throughout the body. The aorta leads upward from the heart, curves into an arch and then goes down through the chest and abdomen to the pelvis.
The aorta’s wall is lined with three layers: inner, middle and outer. An aortic dissection develops when the inner layer tears, allowing blood to flow between it and the middle layer. The force of the flowing blood creates a channel that can burst (rupture) through the outer layer and cause massive internal bleeding.
Aortic dissections require immediate medical attention because many have the potential to rupture. If left untreated, aortic tears can lead to serious complications, including:
Aortic dissections are rare. When they do occur, they tend to develop more frequently in the thoracic aorta (upper aorta in the chest). The most common cause is chronic high blood pressure that damages and weakens the aorta’s walls over time.
Other causes of aortic dissections include:
Factors that can increase the risk of an aortic dissection include:
Symptoms occur suddenly and are severe at times. They include:
Some aortic dissections are difficult to diagnose because their signs and symptoms mimic those of other conditions, including heart attacks. At Henry Ford, our vascular specialists are experts at distinguishing symptoms to pinpoint an aortic dissection diagnosis. Learn more about our vascular testing and our process for aortic disease diagnosis.
The Multidisciplinary Aorta Program is one of the few programs in Michigan offering all available options for dissections. Treatments include medications, minimally invasive procedures and open surgery.
Aortic dissections require immediate, emergency medical care. We typically begin treatment with medications to quickly reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Further treatment varies and depends on where the dissection occurs:
Type A dissections occur in the ascending aorta (section nearest the heart, including the aortic arch). We usually repair or replace the torn area using open surgery.
In some cases, our surgeons can perform a minimally invasive procedure to repair or replace the torn area. We take an endovascular approach, working inside the aorta with a catheter. This thin, flexible tube is inserted through a needle puncture or tiny incision.
Dissections in the descending aorta (section past the aortic arch that runs through the chest and abdomen) are type B. Treatment recommendations depend on the dissection’s severity. Our options include:
For aortic dissections that are repairable with endovascular procedures, our surgeons offer:
Our vascular surgeons and cardiac surgeons have advanced training and experience in open surgery to treat aortic dissections. Find out more about open surgeries for aortic disease treatment and vascular surgery available to you at Henry Ford.
After procedures, you’ll see our vascular medicine specialists and cardiologists for follow-up care and ongoing monitoring. We ensure that your blood pressure is under control and adjust your medications as necessary.