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Aortic Dissection

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Aortic Dissection


Aortic dissection is when a layer tears in the aorta. The aorta is the main blood vessel leading from the heart.

This condition can impair blood flow to vital organs. It can lead to stroke, cardiac arrest, or death. It may also rupture and lead to serious bleeding. It needs to be treated right away.

Heart and Main Vessels.

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The aorta has three layers. Aortic dissection happens when pressure causes a tear in an inner layer of the aorta. Blood then gets between layers. This causes the layers to separate. It also squeezes off the main channel of blood.

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in men over 60 years old and women over age 67. Other things that raise the risk are:


Aortic dissection may cause:

  • Sudden, ripping pain in the chest and or back
  • Stroke
  • Fainting
  • Problems breathing
  • Sudden weakness


Aortic dissection is often a sudden event. It is a medical emergency. At the hospital, the doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Imaging tests will check the aorta and surrounding structures. These may include:

Diagnosis is based on imaging test results.


The first goal is emergency care. Once the person is stabilized, treatment is determined. Treatment depends on where in the aorta the tear has happened. One type of aortic dissection needs surgery right away. Another type can often be managed without surgery (if no blood vessels are blocked).

Treatment options may be:

  • Surgery—The chest is opened and the aorta is repaired.
  • Medicines to:
    • Reduce heart rate
    • Reduce blood pressure
    • Ease pain

The goal of long-term treatment is to reduce stress on the aorta. This may include managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and other conditions.


The risk of this condition may be lowered by:

  • Managing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other conditions
  • Not using tobacco or stimulant drugs




  • Aortic dissection. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/diseases-of-the-aorta-and-its-branches/aortic-dissection.
  • Silaschi M, Byrne J, Wendler O. Aortic dissection: medical, interventional and surgical management. Heart. 2017;103(1):78-87.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/thoracic-aortic-aneurysm.
  • Thoracic aortic dissection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/thoracic-aortic-dissection .


  • Mark D. Arredondo, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.