Arterial & Aortic Dissections

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Arterial dissections happen when the inside wall of your artery tears. Blood gets in the tear and separates the layers of the artery wall. This dissection creates a weak spot that can lead to a life-threatening leak.

An aortic dissection is when you get a tear in the wall of your aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in your body.

At UVA, you’ll get care from a national leader in using stent-grafts to treat arterial and aortic dissections. Our experienced heart and vascular team has gotten special recognition for our artery, valve, and bypass surgery procedures.

Treatment for Arterial & Aortic Dissections at UVA

All aortic dissections can be life-threatening. They also cause serious health problems, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Paralysis
  • Renal failure

You'll need medicines to keep your heart rate and blood pressure low. You might also need surgery.

When You Need Dissection Surgery

arterial wall diagram
Arterial dissections Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

You may need immediate surgery to prevent complications like:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Blood vessel leak or break

Aortic dissection surgery replaces the section of the aorta where the tear began. It's similar to open-heart surgery. We'll make an incision on your chest. We'll use of the heart and lung machine during the procedure. Then we'll replace the affected part of your aorta with a stent-graft. Once the stent-graft is in place, we'll close the incision and take you off of the heart-lung machine.

Only one area of the aorta is repaired. After the procedure, you'll need to take blood pressure medication and get regular CT scans.

Medications That Help You Heal

We can also treat dissections with medication. This type of treatment allows the dissection to stabilize and, sometimes, heal on their own. 

Diagnosing Arterial Dissections

How we diagnose your dissection depends on the type you have. We use:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Angiography
  • Ultrasound
  • Echocardiography

Life After Treatment

After treatment, you might be at risk of developing an aneurysm. This happens because your artery wall is weakened. Blood pressure medication can lower the chance of getting an aneurysm.

If an aneurysm forms, we can usually perform surgery. At UVA, we use specialized stent-grafts that can repair some dissections (or dissection-related aneurysms) without major chest surgery. This procedure gives you faster recovery with less pain.