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Lehigh Valley Children's Hospital

Aortic Dissection

An aortic dissection is a serious condition that begins with a tear in the inner layer of the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Learn how this condition is diagnosed and treated at Lehigh Valley Heart Institute.

The aorta is made up of three layers of tissue. When a tear occurs in the innermost layer, blood leaks into the wall of the aorta separating the layers of tissue. This creates great pressure and may cause the aorta to burst or rupture. Consequently, an aortic dissection can be a life-threatening emergency.

About aortic dissection

The most common symptom of an aortic dissection is severe, constant pain in the chest and/or upper back, sometimes described as "ripping" or "tearing." The pain may move from one place to another, according to the direction and extent of the dissection.

If you experience any of these aortic dissection symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Treatment and next steps

Aortic dissection treatment is called aortic dissection open repair. During this procedure, your surgeon will reconstruct the aorta and prevent blood from entering the aortic wall. A cloth-like tube, called a stent-graft, can be placed inside your aorta to eliminate pressure on the weakened area and prevent it from bursting or rupturing. 

Follow-up care likely will include prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure. Periodically, you also will receive follow-up computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to monitor the site of your aortic dissection. During regular visits with your cardiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon, we will monitor your blood pressure and review your scans to ensure your optimal health.

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