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What is Aortitis?

By Katie McFarlin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Aortitis refers to a medical condition in which the aorta or the main artery of the heart becomes inflamed. This inflammation is a serious condition that requires medical attention, because it can lead to numerous other health complications. There are several causes for aortitis, but many treatment methods are available for those who suffer from this condition.

Inflammation of the aorta typically occurs as the result of a viral or bacterial infection. Trauma to the heart or the artery also can cause aortitis. Other culprits include immune diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphylis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Aortitis can lead to dilation of the aorta, which results in a blood flow insufficiency that triggers lowered blood pressure and a reduced pulse rate. Over time, this causes the heart to work harder and can lead to cardiac arrest. Cardiovascular diseases may also cause aorta inflammation, as well as noninfectious vasculitis, a serious complication of inflammation of the aorta.

There are three main phases to inflammatory aortitis. Phase 1 is characterized by a low-grade fever, weight loss and feelings of fatigue. As the condition progresses to Phase 2, the patient may begin to experience pain in the chest and tenderness over the heart. By the time the condition progresses to Phase 3, it is also known as the fibrosis stage, when actual aortic dilation begins to take place.

In patients exhibiting aortitis symptoms, particularly when they have been found to be suffering from one of the conditions mentioned above, a physician may recommend a magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and computed axial tomography angiography (CTA) of the heart. Blood tests will also be taken. This will help doctors determine if any elevated acute phase reactants are present.

Once a diagnosis of aortitis has been reached, corticosteroids such as prednisone are often prescribed for a period of one to three months. This is intended to reduce the inflammation of the aorta. Most patients respond well to this treatment but, in the event that they do not, further action is needed and immunosuppressants may be prescribed. This is typical in cases of infectious aortitis and is a common aortitis treatment.

In the event that the aorta has been severely damaged as a result of this condition, surgical repair may be necessary. This procedure involves the insertion of stents into the aorta to reduce the inflammation. In less severe cases, angioplasty may be recommended as an alternative. The prognosis for patients with aorta inflammation is typically good, particularly if the patient is not suffering from cardiovascular disease. The key to successfully combating inflammation of the aorta is early diagnosis and quick treatment.

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