Aortic Dissections

Art & research: Kadir Ozler

further reading literature: Kadir Ozler

the aorta

The Aorta is a very important artery in the heart. It is where the oxygenated blood moves into before moving to the rest of the entire body. There are many "lanes" of the aorta that allow it to move to each part of the body such as the arms, legs, brain, etc.

blood flow out of the aorta

To model how blood flows out of the Aorta, we can depict is a PVC pipe with three top lanes and one lane moving to the bottom of the body (shown as the right side of the pipe that is descending), although, of course, this is simplified.

Two major sections of the Aorta are the Ascending Aorta (the part that goes to the upper body including the brain) and the Descending Aorta (the portion that moves towards the lower body). Aortic Dissections can occur in any part of the Aorta, and can be potentially fatal if they enlarge too much and burst (UT Southwestern Medical Center).

cross section of an aortic vessel

There are three layers of the Aorta including the inner, middle, and outer layers (UT Southwestern Medical Center). Going with our PVC pipe analogy, we can model the middle and outer layers to be a rubber covering around the pipe that allows it to be elastic.

blood vessels and pressure

The pressure that blood pumps out of the Aorta is very large because such pressure is required for the blood to reach each faraway location of the body. If the Aorta was stiff, then the vessel would be more likely to burst, so there are various layers that allow it to remain elastic like a rubber band when high-pressure blood passes through it.

Thus, when a large pressure passes through it, it can give slightly to allow the movement of this blood, and then it can later return to its default circumference (Science Daily).

age and elasticity

As we know from our skin, when we age, our elasticity decreases. The same happens in the Aorta just like an overused rubber band that can no longer stretch (although this is a simplification).

Other diseases can also lead to the outcome of an aortic dissection, but the effect on the Aortic wall is relatively the same (Mayo Clinic).

"cracks" emerge

When the Aortic wall becomes weakened in a certain area (like the Ascending portion), it is like a cracked wall that is vulnerable to further breaking and leaking of blood into the space between the inner and outer layers.

The high pressure doesn't help this situation, and if the Aortic wall weakens to the point where blood can pass through, then the middle layer of this vessel becomes filled with blood. This leads to the situation known as the "dissection," and this often leads to a sensation of ripping in the chest as the Aorta enlarges (Mayo Clinic).


If the blood that fills the middle layer of the Aortic vessel overwhelms the other layer of the vessel, then bursting of that portion of the Aorta can occur. This is an extremely dangerous life-threatening situation because it makes the blood that is supposed to flow through that portion of the Aorta leak and lose volume and pressure, which makes it more difficult for various other parts of the body to obtain the oxygen they require from this blood.

important organs & MORTALITY

If a dissection occurs and cuts off blood supply to important organs like the brain, this disease can be fatal to the patient.

Thus, it is recommended to see a doctor to look at the current size of a dissection and suggest possible treatments, like surgery, to remove or overcome the dissection (Mayo Clinic).

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