Aortic Dissection: A Breach In The Wall

Health & Medical Blog

The cardiovascular system is like a complex plumbing system that requires precise control of pressure and water supply. Physiologist David P. Swain, PhD, compared the cardiovascular system to a city's water system. The heart works as a pump to move water to the aorta, which acts as a water tower. The water level in the tower maintains pressure and sends water out through distribution pipes—arteries—to individual homes that dispense water from faucets, which are like the smaller blood vessels.

A Leak in the Tower

The role of the aorta, or water tower, is to conduct blood away from the heart and to smaller vessels that take blood to tissues throughout the body. In the body, heart problems can arise if there is a malfunction with the "pump", just like in a city water system. Likewise, a breach in the walls of the "water tower" can spell disaster for the rest of the system. A tear in the aorta is called aortic dissection. The wall of the aorta is made up of layers; a tear in the inner layer can cause blood to leak between the inner and middle layers, resulting in a separation between the layers and weakening of the aortic wall.


Once a tear is made, heart problem symptoms typically manifest soon after. Severe chest, back and abdominal pain as well as arm or leg pain are common symptoms. Other signs of an aortic dissection seen in patients include shortness of breath, weakness, rapid and/or weak pulse, profuse sweating, pale skin, nausea and anxiety. A tear can also lead to a decrease in blood supply to organs.


Aortic dissection can occur as a result of chronic high blood pressure, chest trauma, atherosclerosis, intense weightlifting, cocaine usage, and even pregnancy. Chronic diseases such as Marfan syndrome, Turner syndrome, and Takayasu's ateritis can also cause aortic dissection. According to the American Heart Association, men make up approximately two-thirds of the people who suffer from an aortic dissection.


Aortic dissection is a serious and life-threatening condition that should be treated immediately. If a tear in a layer of the aortic wall remains untreated, it can cause a rupture. Blood will leak or burst out of the hole in the aorta, which is fatal. Treatment involves surgery that removes the damaged portion of the aorta and replaces it with a graft. Medications, such as beta blockers, can be given to stabilize the dissection by lowering the patient's blood pressure until surgery occurs.


27 June 2017