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The aorta is the main artery that moves blood away from the heart. An aortic dissection is a condition in which the inner layer of the aortic wall splits open. When this happens, blood spills into the inner lining behind the aortic wall, causing the split to continue down the aorta. The blood in the artery is moving away from the heart, and the split typically runs in the same direction.
Occasionally, the dissection will run toward the heart, rather than away from it. This is much less common because the tear will have to travel against the flow of blood. Dissections that occur in the direct of the heart are more common in elderly patients.
As the aortic dissection develops, the tear in the inner wall of the aorta travels down the aorta and can even move into arteries that branch off of the aorta. An aortic dissection is considered a medical emergency. Dissections are more common in men than in women and typically occur between the ages of 50 and 70.
Someone suffering from an aortic dissection will know that something is amiss immediately. They will experience extreme chest pain and break into a cold sweat. The pain may be centralized in the front or the back of the chest, or may travel through the body as the dissection spreads. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should immediately call an ambulance or head to the closest emergency room.
Once in the hospital, the patient suffering from an aortic dissection will be given a variety of drugs. They will be administered medications to lower their blood pressure as well as their heart rate. This will reduce the pressure on the arteries. The doctor may choose to do a surgical procedure to close the dissection or implant a stent to remove the pressure from the artery.
There are a variety of conditions that may predispose someone to an aortic dissection. Congenital aortic valve problems, an aortic aneurysm or a genetic disease such as Marfan syndrome are all problems that may lead to the development of an aortic dissection. The greatest single risk factor for developing an aortic dissection is high blood pressure.