Aortic Dissections

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Aortic dissection occurs when damage to the inner wall of the aorta allows blood to flow in between tissue layers of the aortic wall. Aortic dissections are classified as either a “Type A” or “Type B” dissection depending on where the tear is located in the aorta.  A Type A dissection occurs near where the aortic artery connects to the heart and the aortic arch. Type B dissections occur in the aorta in the chest and extend down to the abdomen.

The UCLA Aortic Center: Comprehensive Care for Aortic Dissections

At the UCLA Aortic Center, our skilled team provides expert evaluation and treatment for patients with aortic dissections. As a Level 1 Trauma Center, we are prepared to handle even the most critical aortic dissection cases. We offer the latest surgical advances to treat aortic dissections even in high-risk patients including endovascular repair, and hybrid repair

We offer:

  • Modern facilities: LA’s most technologically advanced operating rooms
  • Emergency care: Surgeons on-call 24/7 for evaluating and treating aortic dissections
  • Advanced Treatments: The latest treatment options for repairing aortic dissections including endovascular and hybrid surgeries

Learn more:

Causes of Aortic Dissections

Aortic dissections can be caused by a number of underlying health conditions that weaken the aortic wall. Health conditions that can cause aortic dissections include:

  • Aortic disease
  • Birth defects (such as bicuspid aortic valve or coarctation)
  • Connective tissue disease
  • Genetic conditions such as Turner syndrome, Marfan syndrome and Loeys-Dietz syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Known thoracic aortic aneurysm

Symptoms of Aortic Dissections

Symptoms of aortic dissection can be similar to many other medical emergencies and can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can include:

  • Sudden, severe chest or upper back pain described as a tearing, stabbing or ripping sensation.
  • Confusion
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weak pulse rate in one arm

Expert Diagnosis of Aortic Dissections at UCLA

Diagnosis of an aortic dissection can be made through a physical examination by a doctor and further confirmed through diagnostic imaging tests. These types of tests include:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan—This test can determine the location and extent of an aortic dissection. This test may be done with the infusion of intravenous contrast, which can show areas of blood flow in the aortic dissection
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram –This test quickly and accurately evaluates the anatomy of the aorta at the patient’s bedside and can confirm the presence and extent of a Type A aortic dissection.

Learn more about types of imaging tests.

Advanced Treatment of Aortic Dissections at UCLA

Type A aortic dissections are extremely serious and require immediate surgical repair. Surgical treatment can vary greatly depending on the extent dissection and the underlying health condition that caused it. For example, treatment for a younger patient with Marfan syndrome will be vastly different from an older patient with atherosclerosis.

At UCLA, our experts offer both medical treatment and surgical repair of aortic dissections. Medical management has long been the standard of care to slow the progression of Type B aortic dissections. Drugs that lower blood pressure may be prescribed. These drugs may be given intravenously. In addition, heart medications such as beta-blockers may reduce some of the symptoms.

Aortic repair procedures can be used to treat both Type A and Type B aortic dissections. These techniques include: