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Injury to the Aorta

By

Thomas G. Weiser

, MD, MPH, Stanford University School of Medicine

Medically Reviewed Apr 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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The aorta—the largest artery in the body—can be partially or completely torn by severe blunt force to the chest.

  • People with this injury have severe chest pain and often weak pulses, hoarseness, or shock.

  • A chest x-ray is taken, and another imaging test, such as computed tomography (CT) angiography, ultrasonography, or aortography, is often also done.

  • Traumatic aortic disruption is an emergency.

  • After blood pressure and heart rate are controlled, surgery is done to repair the injury.

The heart pumps blood to the entire body through the aorta. Thus, a tear (disruption) in the aorta is a life-threatening emergency. People with a large tear usually die before they reach the hospital.

Symptoms of Aortic Injury

People usually have severe chest pain because the chest wall is injured. Some people are hoarse or have weak pulses, particularly in the legs or feet. The feet and hands may be cool, sweaty, and blue. People may have symptoms of shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition in which blood flow to the organs is low, decreasing delivery of oxygen and thus causing organ damage and sometimes death. Blood pressure is usually low... read more , such as low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and confusion.

Diagnosis of Aortic Injury

Treatment of Aortic Injury

  • Control of heart rate and blood pressure

  • Surgery to repair the aorta or insertion of a wire mesh

The first priority is to control the person's heart rate and blood pressure. If blood pressure and heart rate are high, a tear can become worse, sometimes causing the aorta to burst. Drugs, such as beta-blockers Adrenergic blockers High blood pressure is very common. It often does not cause symptoms; however, high blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. Therefore, it is important... read more , can help control both. Other measures that may help can include giving pain relievers, trying to keep the person calm, and refraining from doing procedures that may cause gagging or vomiting.

After heart rate and blood pressure are controlled, surgery is done to repair the tear. Sometimes doctors place a mesh tube (stent) into the aorta to cover the tear.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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