The aorta is the largest artery (blood vessel) in the body. It begins at the top of the left ventricle, the heart’s pumping chamber, and extends up into the chest. It then travels down to the abdomen where it splits into two smaller arteries and carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
The aorta experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute treats the following aortic diseases:
- Aortic aneurysms
- Aortic dissections (Type A and Type B)
- Penetrating aortic ulcers and intramural hematomas
- Aortic occlusions
Causes of Aortic Diseases
The most common cause of aortic disease is having a health condition that affects the heart, aorta or nearby arteries, such as:
- Medial degeneration
- Bicuspid aortic valve disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Connective tissue disorders
Having a genetic condition like Marfan, Turner’s or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or an autoimmune disorder could also cause aortic disease.
Furthermore, aortic disease can be the result of a traumatic injury, such as an auto accident. If you have high blood pressure or a history of cigarette smoking, you may also be at greater risk.
Symptoms of Aortic Diseases
The symptoms of aortic disease vary based on the type of disease you have. For example, aortic dissection presents with symptoms similar to stroke while an aortic aneurysm may bring about hoarseness and difficulty breathing.
Some common symptoms all aortic diseases share include:
- Pain and tenderness of the chest, upper back or abdomen
- Loss of consciousness
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Leg or arm pain
Diagnosis of Aortic Diseases
Diagnosing aortic disease can be difficult, but the first step is to have a physical exam and discuss your medical history and symptoms with a doctor. This helps to distinguish if you’re experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke or if aortic disease may be at play.
Imaging tests will also be ordered based and can include:
- Abdominal and intravascular ultrasounds
- CT scans and MRIs
- Transesophageal echocardiograms (TEE)
- Duplex ultrasonography
Treatment for Aortic Diseases
There are two main treatments for aortic disease:
- Medication – Often used to stabilize a patient before surgery, medication helps to reduce their heart rate and lower their blood pressure. It can also be used on its own, combined with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and eating healthier.
- Surgery – Open abdominal surgery and endovascular repair are two of the most common surgical treatments for aortic diseases.