Aortic Dissection

An aortic dissection is an urgent, often life-threatening, condition that requires specialized care from an experienced team. At Henry Ford Health, heart surgeons and vascular surgeons work together to quickly diagnose and treat dissections and prevent serious complications.

Why choose Henry Ford for aortic dissection treatment?

Henry Ford has one of only two dedicated aortic disease programs in southeast Michigan. We treat a high volume of patients with aortic aneurysms and aortic dissections each year, making us one of the busiest aortic surgery centers in the state and the nation.

At our Aortic Disease Program, you’ll find:

  • Care for complex conditions: Our surgeons specialize in reaching dissections in complex, delicate areas of the aorta. We perform open and minimally invasive surgery for dissections in the ascending aorta and aortic arch. These parts of the aorta are close to your heart and brain, making them difficult to treat.
  • Advanced treatments: We do complex procedures that aren’t widely available, such as reoperative or redo aortic surgery. This is a second operation to fix problems resulting from a previous emergency aortic dissection surgery. Our surgeons routinely treat these high-risk patients with excellent outcomes.
  • Experts in emergency aortic surgery: Our team is available 24/7/365 to perform urgent surgery for aortic dissections and aneurysms. You recover in our cardiac intensive care unit (CICU). Intensivists and their teams provide you with the highest level of specialized care after heart surgery.

What is an aortic dissection?

The aorta is the body’s largest artery, carrying blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The wall of the aorta has several layers. An aortic dissection is a tear in one of the layers, allowing blood to leak between the layers.

Although aortic dissections aren’t as common as aortic aneurysms, they’re much more dangerous. Dissections require immediate medical attention. Blood between the layers of the aorta can cause the vessel to rupture (burst), leading to life-threatening bleeding. A dissection can also divert blood away from the branching arteries of the aorta that supply blood to your vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys and liver.

Types of aortic dissections

Aortic dissections can be acute or chronic. Acute aortic dissections cause sudden, severe symptoms and need urgent treatment. Chronic aortic dissections develop over time and cause milder symptoms. Chronic dissections still need treatment but aren’t usually life-threatening.

We further classify aortic dissections as type A or type B:

  • Type A aortic dissections occur in the ascending aorta, the first part of the aorta that connects to your heart. Type A dissections are usually acute.
  • Type B aortic dissections occur in the aortic arch or descending aorta, which runs through your chest and abdomen. Type B dissections are usually chronic.

Aortic dissection causes and risk factors

Traumatic injuries to your chest can cause sudden aortic dissections. However, it’s more common for certain medical conditions to damage or weaken the walls of the aorta. Most aortic dissections occur in people between the ages of 50 and 65.

Aortic dissection risk factors include:

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Chronic high blood pressure or a sudden, severe increase in blood pressure
  • Congenital (from birth) heart defects such as bicuspid aortic valve and coarctation of the aorta
  • Genetic conditions such as Marfan, Turner and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes
  • Heart surgery such as coronary artery bypass or valve replacement
  • Personal or family history of aortic aneurysms or dissections
  • Smoking

Aortic dissection symptoms

Symptoms of an aortic dissection may include:

  • Chest or upper back pain that feels sharp and intense
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Leg pain, paralysis or difficulty walking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vision loss

Aortic dissection diagnosis

Some aortic dissections are difficult to diagnose because their signs and symptoms mimic those of other conditions, including heart attacks. At Henry Ford, our aortic disease specialists are experts at distinguishing symptoms to pinpoint an aortic dissection. We use the latest imaging technology — including CT scans, MRI and echocardiography — to diagnose aortic dissections as quickly as possible.

Learn more about how we diagnose aortic diseases.

Aortic dissection treatment at Henry Ford

Surgery is the main treatment for aortic dissections. Most people also receive medication to lower their blood pressure and reduce the risk of a rupture.

Acute type A dissections (in the ascending aorta) usually require open aortic surgery. People with chronic type B dissections (in the descending aorta) may be candidates for minimally invasive treatment. At Henry Ford, our surgical capabilities mean we can often combine open aortic surgery and endovascular repair as a hybrid treatment for complex conditions and high-risk patients.

Learn more about our options for aortic disease treatment.

Take the next step

Request an appointment with a member of our aortic disease team or use one of the numbers below:

  • Detroit or southeast Michigan: (844) 725-6424
  • Jackson or south central Michigan: (517) 205-1305

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