by Amy Scholten, MPH
Aortic dissection is when a layer tears in the aorta. The aorta is the main blood vessel leading from the heart.
This condition can impair blood flow to vital organs. It can lead to stroke, cardiac arrest, or death. It may also rupture and lead to serious bleeding. It needs to be treated right away.
The aorta has three layers. Aortic dissection happens when pressure causes a tear in an inner layer of the aorta. Blood then gets between layers. This causes the layers to separate. It also squeezes off the main channel of blood.
This condition is more common in men over 60 years old and women over age 67. Other things that raise the risk are:
Aortic dissection may cause:
Aortic dissection is often a sudden event. It is a medical emergency. At the hospital, the doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Imaging tests will check the aorta and surrounding structures. These may include:
Diagnosis is based on imaging test results.
The first goal is emergency care. Once the person is stabilized, treatment is determined. Treatment depends on where in the aorta the tear has happened. One type of aortic dissection needs surgery right away. Another type can often be managed without surgery (if no blood vessels are blocked).
Treatment options may be:
The goal of long-term treatment is to reduce stress on the aorta. This may include managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and other conditions.
The risk of this condition may be lowered by:
American Heart Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Aortic dissection. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Accessed July 16, 2021.
Silaschi M, Byrne J, Wendler O. Aortic dissection: medical, interventional and surgical management. Heart. 2017;103(1):78-87.
Thoracic aortic aneurysm. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/thoracic-aortic-aneurysm. Accessed July 16, 2021.
Thoracic aortic dissection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/thoracic-aortic-dissection . Accessed July 16, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 7/16/2021