Diseases of the aorta

The aorta is the large artery that leaves the heart and provides oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.

When the aorta becomes abnormal, it widens, and becomes at risk of tearing. Conditions that may be associated with this problem include:

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Congenitally bicuspid aortic valve
  • Genetic conditions, such as Marfan syndrome and its variants.
  • Other connective tissue disorders that affect the strength of the blood vessel walls
  • Traumatic injury

Diagnosis is usually made with transthoracic echocardiography, sometimes with CT scanning. Echocardiography is commonly used to follow your condition and check for any increased widening. Usually, a widened aorta produces no symptoms and is detected on screening individuals with the above underlying conditions. If the aorta tears, this is a medical emergency, which may result in pain in the chest and through to the upper back.

Treatment includes control of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels according to accepted guidelines, to slow or prevent progression of the condition. It is very important to follow up a widened thoracic aorta with regular echocardiography, and widened abdominal aorta abdominal ultrasound. Once the diameter reaches the appropriate size, or if there has been a rapid progression of increase in size, the aorta is repaired with an operation.