Basics of Aortic Dissection

Aortic Dissection is classically described as a sudden tearing, stabbing, or sharp pain in the chest or mid-back.

Aortic Dissection Videos:

  1. Nucleus Medical Media: Aortic Aneurysm and Aortic Dissection (Start at 2:30)
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  2. Khan Academy Medicine: What is Aortic Dissection?
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Previous entry 1:

Aortic Dissection

Published December 20, 2014 | By admin

Aortic Dissection

Definition: Classically an intimal tear in the aorta resulting in hematoma formation. Accumulating blood in false lumen of arterial wall leads to propagation of a dissection. Alternatively may begin as an intrawall hematoma without intimal tear.


Stanford: (most commonly used)

Type A: Involves ascending aorta up to or including the aortic notch

Type B: Involves the descending aorta

Non Type A/Non-type B: isolated involvement of the aortic notch


Type 1: Ascending Aorta

Type 2: Aortic notch

Type 3: Descending Aorta


Type A is most commonly occurs in patients greater than 60 years of age. Type B dissection patients are typically older. Patients with Marfan’s average 36 years of age.

Risk Factors:

Hypertension (70%), old age, atherosclerosis, collagen abnormalities (marfan’s, ehlers-danlos), drug use, inflammatory vasculitis (takayasu, giant cell arteritis), chest trauma, turner syndrome, bicuspid aorta.


Maintain a high index of suspicion in a male patient 60-80 years old with a history of hypertension. Patients will oftentimes describe the pain as abrupt onset, sharp and severe, Most often type A affects the patient in the chest/sternal area and type B occurs in the back or abdomen. A positive family history of dissection should also raise suspicion. Physical exam findings include hypotension in Type A, hypertension in Type B, pulse deficit, aortic regurgitation, signs of CHF, limb ischemia or MI.

Diagnostic Tests:

MRI, TEE and CT with IV contrast all have around a 95% sensitivity. MRI however is not indicated for unstable patients and patients with certain pacemakers and devices. It is often used for long-term management and follow-up.

CT with IV contrast may be done as a CT scanner is usually readily available.

A transesophageal echocardiogram may be done bedside in an unstable patient. It takes around 15-20 minutes to perform. If there is a high index of suspicion and the 1st test is negative a 2nd test must be performed.

Contrast angiography may be used specifically as a diagnostic tool especially when visceral perfusion defects are suspected. It may also provide an entry point into endovascular treatment of dissection.

** Of note, 60% of intimal tears occur in the proximal ascending aorta. The rest occur at the origin of the left subclavian artery and the ligamentum arteriosum, the descending aorta, in the aortic notch and in the abdomen.


Aortic Dissection is an acute occurrence. The first priority is to maintain hemodynamic stability. There should be a low threshold for ICU admission. Arterial blood pressures should be monitored in less stable patients.

For uncomplicated Type B dissections, medical management is considered first line treatment. Patients should be started on Beta-Blockers such as Labetalol, Propranolol, Metoprolol or Esmolol. If the patient is unable to handle Beta-Blockers or has severe asthma, calcium channel blockers with negative inotropic and chronotropic effect such as Verapamil or Diltiazem may be used. Surgical intervention is indicated for Type B only if the patient has continued aortic expansion, impending aortic rupture, occlusion of a major arterial vessel, persistent or recurrent chest pain, or a pre-aortic or mediastinal hematoma. Surgical intervention is typically associated with worse outcomes than medical therapy.

On the other hand, the first line treatment for a Type A dissection is surgical intervention. Those patients who are inappropriate candidates for surgery have a mortality rate of 50%. Surgical correction aims to resect the ascending aorta with a conduit graft.

Previous Entry 2:

Aortic Dissection

Published August 14, 2014 | By admin

What is an aortic dissection?

The aorta is the biggest artery in the body.  It originates from the left ventricle and supplies virtually every part of the body with oxygenated blood.  A dissection is a tear of the innermost layer of tissue of the vessel.  This causes blood to flow into the middle layer of tissue and damages it causing it to become weak.  Aortic dissection is often a surgical emergency that requires careful management.

Aortic dissection can be acute or chronic

Acute dissection – Symptoms or dissection occurring within the last 14 days

Chronic dissection – Symptoms or dissection occurring after the 14th day

It is also important to differentiate between complicated vs. uncomplicated aortic dissection

Complicated aortic dissection – patient has developed a rupture, malperfusion syndromes refractory pain or rapid aortic expansion.

Un-complicated – do not exhibit the above features

How do we classify aortic dissections?

We classify aortic dissections based mainly on where the tear is and if/where it propagates.  There are two widely used protocol for classifications; The DeBakey classifications and The Stanford classifications.

The DeBakey Classifications

  • Type I – propagate from the ascending aorta, extend to the aortic arch, and commonly, beyond the arch distally.
  • Type II – confined to the ascending portion of the aorta.
  • Type III – limited to the descending aorta.

The Stanford

  • Stanford type A – involve the ascending aorta
  • Stanford type B – Do not involve the ascending aorta


Below is a third way to classify dissections but only applies to dissections of the descending aorta.

  • Type 1 – no identifiable intimomedial tears in the descending thoracic aorta.
  • Type 2 – one or more intimomedial tears in the descending thoracic aorta and there is no tear at or distal to the level of the celiac artery.
  • Type 3 – intimomedial tears involving the abdominal aorta (with or without concomitant tears in the descending thoracic aorta).
  • Type 4 – intimomedial tears distal to the aortic bifurcation (with or without concomitant tears in the descending thoracic and abdominal aorta).

Uri M. Ben-Zur, M.D., F.A.C.C. completed a residency in internal medicine and fellowships in interventional cardiology, clinical cardiology, and clinical electrophysiology.  He currently practices at the The Paulette Tashnek-Wagner Cardiovascular Institute of Greater Los Angeles located in Tarzana, CA.

Aortic Dissection. Digital image. Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

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