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What Is a Dissecting Aneurysm?

A diagram of the aorta. Aneurysms in the aorta can be extremely dangerous.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Also known as an aortic dissection, a dissecting aneurysm is a situation in which the inner wall of an artery has expanded and begun to rip. This allows blood to spill into the middle layer, or section, of the aorta. As a result, the middle and inner layers begin to separate or dissect, effectively widening the gap and impairing the function of the artery. If left unchecked, the collected blood will eventually cause the outer wall of the artery to rupture. While relatively uncommon, this type of aneurysm requires immediate medical attention.

Two different classes of dissecting aneurysm are currently recognized. A type A aortic dissection aneurysm is the most common example, as well as the most deadly. With this type, the rip forms at the point where the aorta exits from the heart, or starts at the upper section of the artery and extends down into the lower section that extends into the abdomen. The type B aneurysm dissection is focused solely on a rip that develops in the section of the artery that travels into the abdominal area. While less dangerous than a type A situation, the type B aneurysm is still very dangerous, and should be treated as soon as possible.

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There are several reasons why a dissecting aneurysm may develop. One has to do with blood pressure. When high blood pressure occurs for an extended period of time, it can begin to weaken the walls of the aorta, making the possibility of tearing much more likely. Some type of trauma to the middle section of the body can also result in a dissecting abdominal aneurysm, which essentially is a situation where the rupturing action has become so severe that the damage is progressing to the abdominal cavity. There is also some evidence that this condition can be brought on by Marfin’s syndrome, although the chances are somewhat slim.

The symptoms associated with a dissecting aneurysm are not unlike those associated with any type of heart problem. Shortness of breath and a sense of feeling weak are two common symptoms. Individuals may also find that they feel faint more often, sometimes to the point of actually passing out. As the tearing of the artery wall continues, there is often a great deal of pain in the chest as well as the upper back that seems to travel down the back and into the pelvic region.

Surgery and medication are the current treatments used to effectively deal with a dissecting aneurysm. For patients suffering from a type B aneurysm, there is a good chance that medication, along with some lifestyle changes, can prevent any further ripping and allow the body to repair the existing damage. However, a type A aneurysm will require surgical intervention that often involves removing the damaged section of the artery and reconstructing the section with the use of plastic or metal grafts. Typically, medication is used as a follow up to the surgery, both to help ease pain and to help the body adapt to the materials used in the reconstruction process.

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