Aortic dissection is a rare, but potentially fatal, condition in which blood passes through the inner lining and between the layers of the aorta. The dissecting aorta usually does not burst, but has an abnormal second channel within it.
A defect in the inner lining of the aorta allows an opening or tear to develop. The aorta is the main artery of the body and is an area of high blood pressure. When a defect develops, blood pressure can force the tear to open and allow blood to pass through. Since the blood is under pressure, it eventually splits (dissecting) the middle layer of the blood vessel, creating a new channel for blood. The length of the channel grows over time and can result in the closing off of connection points to other arteries. This can lead to heart attack, strokes, abdominal pain, and nerve damage. Blood may leak from the dissection and collect in the chest an around the heart.
A second mechanism leading to aortic dissection is medial hemorrhage. A medial hemorrhage occurs in the middle layer of the blood vessel and spills through the inner lining of the aorta wall. This opening then allows blood from the aorta to enter the vessel wall and begin a dissection. Approximately 2,000 cases of aortic dissection occur yearly in the United States.
John T. Lohr PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,