Aortic dissection is a tear between the inner and outer layers of
the aortic wall. The tear can cause the wall to separate and rupture, resulting
in life-threatening bleeding and death.
The aorta, like all arteries, is made up of three layers, which are
fused together. If the layers begin to separate, it causes bleeding into and
around the tear. The bleeding widens the tear and causes the layers to
separate. Typically, an aortic dissection occurs in the section of the aorta
that leaves the heart and curves down through the chest.
Aortic dissection can be caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of
the arteries) and high blood pressure; traumatic injury to the chest, such as
hitting the car steering wheel during an accident; and conditions that are
present at birth, such as Marfan's syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Symptoms usually include sudden and severe chest or upper back
pain, anxiety, pallor, sweating, and nausea. Aortic dissection usually requires
emergency surgery to repair the tear.