What is the Aorta?
The aorta is the largest artery in your body. It is made of strong, flexible walls which bear the pressure of blood flowing from your heart. It receives oxygenated blood from your heart and branches into smaller arteries to pump the oxygenated blood to the different parts of your body.
What is Aortic Disease?
Aortic disease refers to the various disorders or conditions affecting the aorta. The main diseases of the aorta include:
- Aortic Aneurysms
- Aortic Valve Disease
- Aortic Dissection
- Penetrating Ulcer
Different Types of Aortic Diseases
An aortic aneurysm occurs when the walls of the aorta begin to weaken, gradually lose their elasticity and expand or bulge outwards. It can occur in any part of the aorta and would be classified as thoracic aortic aneurysm or abdominal aortic aneurysm depending on the part of the aorta affected.
Aortic Valve Disease
Aortic valve disease refers to any abnormal conditions or disorders affecting the aortic valve in your heart. These include:
- Aortic Stenosis: In this condition, your aortic valve becomes constricted and fails to open fully. This obstructs the outflow of blood from your heart.
- Aortic Insufficiency (Aortic Regurgitation): In this condition, your aortic valve doesn’t function properly and the blood flows back to your heart instead of flowing to the rest of the body.
- Bicuspid Aortic Valve: This is a common congenital heart defect marked by the presence of two cusps in your aortic valve instead of three cusps.
An aortic dissection is a tear in the inner lining of your aorta. When the blood flows at high pressure across a torn aorta, it can cause the aorta to rupture, which could become fatal.
An aortic dissection occurring in the ascending aorta is termed Type A and is an emergency that usually requires surgical intervention, while an aortic dissection occurring in the descending aorta is termed Type B and may be managed without surgery by controlling your blood pressure.
A penetrating ulcer also termed penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer, occurs when the plaque in your aorta forms ulcers that penetrate your aortic wall. This is a rare condition that most commonly affects your descending aorta. It is seen in people with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, chest or back pain and those who smoke.
Causes of Aortic Disease
There are numerous conditions and diseases that can cause damage to the aorta. These include:
- Aging: This causes the aorta to lose its elasticity
- Health conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension), hardening of the aortic walls (atherosclerosis), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), infections such as endocarditis
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking
- Chest or stomach injury
- Genetic conditions such as Turner’s Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, polycystic kidney disease, and other genetic abnormalities
- A family member or relative suffering from aortic disease
Symptoms of Aortic Diseases
Mild forms of aortic diseases are typically asymptomatic. However, as the condition progresses some of the common symptoms would include:
- Chest, back or abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pulsing sensation in your stomach
If you develop an aortic tear causing dissection, you may experience sudden severe pain accompanied by a drop in your blood pressure, nausea, and dizziness. This is a medical emergency and you should seek medical treatment.
Diagnosis of Aortic Diseases
You will need to visit a heart specialist or cardiologist to diagnose aortic disease. Your doctor will inquire about your symptoms and order a chest X-ray. You may also be asked to undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or an echocardiogram for confirmation of aortic disease.
Treatment Options for Aortic Disease
The choice of treatment for aortic disease depends on its severity. For mild symptoms, you will be prescribed medications like calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers to minimize the risk of aortic dissection or rupture. For severe symptoms, you may be recommended an open or endovascular surgery.
Surgery for aortic aneurysm involves replacing the damaged aorta with a graft. A stent could also be used to repair your aorta as it provides structural support to the aorta and minimizes further complications.
Prevention of Aortic Disease
To prevent aortic disease, you should follow a healthy lifestyle, abstain from smoking, consume a nutritious diet that excludes excess fats and visit your cardiologist regularly for a cardiovascular check-up.