Aortic dissection is the most common cause of death related to the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Sudden celebrity deaths, such as John Ritter and Alan Thicke, bring attention to an often undiagnosed issue that catches people by surprise.
An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. Blood seeps through the tear causing the inner and middle layers to separate or dissect. If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection is often fatal. Symptoms mimic those of other diseases leading to a delay in diagnosis. However, when it’s detected and treated promptly, the chance of survival greatly improves.
Treatment of the lower aortic dissections has traditionally been initially medical therapy unless complications develop. The newer stenting method done by Dr. Vito Mantese, vascular surgeon with Mercy Clinic Vascular Specialists, is minimally invasive (done through the groin) and helps make the descending aorta (or lower section) stronger where the dissection occurred.
"Because the lower aorta has multiple arteries branching off to other vital organs, stenting hasn't always been possible," Dr. Mantese said. "But the newer stenting methods now enable us to help strengthen the aorta where a dissection is detected before it ruptures, all while getting patients back to their lives more quickly."