Thousands of Americans experience a torn aorta each year. The condition has been in the news lately when US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, recently died after surgery to repair a torn aorta. Actor John Ritter also died of a torn aorta in 2003.
What is the aorta?
The aorta is the main artery in the heart. It carries oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. It is shaped like a candy cane and is as wide as a garden hose. Blood pumped by the heart travels up and down through the aorta.
What is a torn or ruptured aorta
The descending aorta is fixed in place. The aortic arch at the top of the heart is flexible. Sometimes in an auto accident, the force of the impact causes the moveable part of the aorta to pull away from the fixed part causing a tear and life threatening internal bleeding.
Other aortic difficulties besides impact or trauma can cause an aortic tear. They are an aortic aneurysm or an aortic dissection.
What is aortic aneurysm?
A widening, a bulge, a weak spot on the aortic wall or a ballooning out of the aorta is called an aneurysm.
The bursting of an aortic aneurysm is the 13th leading cause death in the US, accounting for 15,000-20,000 deaths annually.
What is aortic dissection?
An aortic dissection is a tear in the aorta that allows blood to flow into the layers of the aorta. An early diagnosis of this condition is critical before the aorta tears open completely.
Aortic aneurysms and dissections can occur in the chest or abdominal area of the body, or in both.
Causes of torn aorta.
-Genetic factors, heredity
– Impact and trauma from an accident
– Uncontrolled high blood pressure
– Heart defects
– Weight lifting
– Inflammatory diseases
– Cocaine abuse
Symptoms of a torn aorta
– Sudden onset of severe chest pain
– Lack of pulse
Diagnosis before a rupture occurs is essential and will involve ongoing medical management or surgery. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for survival.
Once the rupture occurs it is very difficult to diagnose it from a regular heart attack and survival is doubtful.
Following John Ritter’s death, his brother was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm similar to John’s. He had surgery to remove it well before he had any difficulty. He is followed medically and today enjoys good health.
Ritter’s wife, Amy Yasbeck has established the John Ritter Aortic Health Foundation to bring attention to aortic tearing. .