Aortic Disease: A Silent Killer

Physicians often refer to aortic disease as “silent,” because it usually develops slowly, with no noticeable symptoms. By the time someone notices sudden pain or weakness, an aneurysm has usually burst or dissected, and that person needs to get to the emergency room immediately.

Ideally, someone’s condition will be diagnosed much earlier, which is why physicians may recommend preventative screening, such as exams, ultrasound or radiologic imaging, especially for patients who are older than 65 or considered high risk for aortic problems.

A Patient’s Perspective
Learn what one patient has to say about the Lourdes Cardiovascular Institute.
What is the Aorta?

  • Your aorta carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of your body
  • Shaped like a cane, it descends down the centerline of the body, all the way to the navel
  • Because it connects to other major blood vessels, a problem with the aorta can be life threatening
Types of Aortic Problems

  • Weak, bulges (called aneurysms) can form in the wall of the aorta
  • If an aneurysm bursts (called a rupture), blood pours into the chest or abdomen
  • Aneurysms also can lead to the tearing and separation of the inner lining (called a dissection), which can starve organs of oxygenated blood

  • Sudden stabbing, radiating pain
  • Fainting and difficulty breathing
  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body

Treatment Options

Depending on the location and size of an aneurysm, a physician may recommend a watch and wait approach, along with lifestyle changes and medication to reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. If an aneurysm is prone to rupture, a physician may recommend:

  • A nonsurgical catheter-based approach (endovascular procedure) to place mesh stent grafts to strengthen the aorta and remove circulatory pressure from the abnormality.
  • Surgery to replace the damaged area of the blood vessel. In this case, surgeons replace a section of the vessel with a synthetic graft. This graft may also include a replacement aortic valve for patients who have valve leakage.

Dissections are often painful events that require urgent care. Like a burst aneurysm, dissections can be life-threating events that give patients a short window of time to receive emergency care. Immediate surgery is required.

Related Information

Aortic Surgery

How We Can Help

We offer the most advanced treatment options, so patients can recover as quickly as possible. Whenever possible, our experienced vascular specialists guide patients toward the least invasive treatment available, repairing the aorta without separating your breast bone or stopping the heart. By accessing the aorta through tiny incisions made between the ribs, our surgeons help to ensure a patient’s recovery is swift and comfortable.