Aortic Diseases & Conditions

What is the Aorta?

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to your vital organs. The part of the aorta within the chest is called the thoracic aorta. Once the aorta passes to the lower half of the body, it is called the abdominal aorta.

The thoracic aorta is further classified into segments — the ascending aorta, the aortic arch, and the descending thoracic aorta. Treatment options will depend on which part of the aorta has a problem.

Aortic Root
The aortic root is connected to the heart. The aortic root is a special structure that contains the aortic valve and the origins of the right and left main coronary arteries. Changes in the size and shape of the artic root can affect the aortic valve’s ability to work normally. The rounded shape of the root lets enough blood flow into the coronary arteries to ensure the heart muscle can function. Diseases that affect coronary artery blood flow can reduce the heart’s ability to pump effectively.

Ascending Aorta
The ascending aorta begins above the aortic root and extends towards the neck until it begins to turn and give rise to the aortic arch. Although the ascending aorta does not contain any important structures, it’s more likely to develop aneurysms and dissections, which require surgery to repair.

Aortic Arch
The aortic arch is the curved part of the aorta above the heart, between the ascending and the descending aorta. It contains the arterial branches that go to the head and both arms. In most people, this consists of three branches: the brachiocephalic artery, the left common carotid artery and the left subclavian artery. Surgery involving the aortic arch requires complex circulation techniques in the operating room to protect the brain and other vital organs.

Descending Aorta
The descending aorta starts after the aortic arch has branched off for the last time. It continues down through the chest. Once it passes through the diaphragm, it’s called the abdominal aorta. The descending aorta provides important blood flow to the spinal cord. In many cases, endovascular surgery is an option for problems with the descending aorta, but more complex problems will still require open surgery.

Abdominal Aorta
The abdominal aorta extends from the diaphragm to the pelvis, where it splits to provide blood flow to your legs. Along the way, its branches provide blood flow to all of the abdomen’s vital organs. Different branches are responsible for the stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. Location of disease in the abdominal aorta is very important and will determine the type of procedure you need.

Aortic Illnesses and Conditions

  • Aortic Aneurysm: Aortic aneurysms happen when the wall of the aorta weakens, causing it to balloon or expand. As the aneurysm grows larger, it can rupture (burst) or dissect (tear).
  • Aortic Dissection: Aortic dissection is a tear that begins in the inner lining of the artery wall. Blood is forced through this opening, where it builds up between the vessel walls and can eventually rupture the outer lining of the artery.
  • Aortic Transection: Aortic transection is a tear in the aorta, usually right at the beginning of the descending thoracic aorta. It is often caused by an injury during a car crash.
  • Infected or Mycotic Aortic Aneurysm: An infected aortic aneurysm is a type of aneurysm that happens when bacteria or other germs enter the blood stream and infect the wall of the aorta, eventually causing it to weaken.
  • Aortoiliac Occlusive Disease: Around the belly button, the aorta splits into the iliac arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood through the pelvis and into the legs. Aortoiliac occlusive disease is a form of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) that affects this region of the circulatory system. PAD is a condition that develops as a result of atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits and plaque in the lining of arteries.

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