Types of Aortic Dissection | MedStar Health

Expert care to treat a tear in the lining of the aorta

A dissection is a tear in the lining of the aorta, the candy cane-shaped artery that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. As blood leaks from the inner layer of the aorta into the middle layer, it causes the layers to separate. This interrupts blood flow and can cause the aorta to burst or stop blood flow to critical organs, such as your heart, brain, or intestines.

While blood pressure medication may be enough to treat some tears, others can threaten your life and will need to be repaired. Our Complex Aortic Center brings together cardiac surgeons and vascular surgeons to treat aortic dissections, including a minimally invasive approach known as endovascular repair.

What are the types of aortic dissection?

There are two types of aortic dissection, depending on where the tear begins and ends.

Type A aortic dissection: This type occurs in the ascending aorta (the short side of the candy cane) and extends through the descending aorta (the long side). This tear may extend into the abdomen. Type A is more common and more dangerous, often requiring emergency surgery.

Type B aortic dissection: This type involves a tear in the descending aorta only, and it also may extend into the abdomen. These are often treated with a minimally invasive stent.

More serious tears can spread to other blood vessels, heart valves, or the sac surrounding the heart.

What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

Aortic dissection symptoms may be vague, such as a general unwell feeling. One common symptom is a sudden, severe pain in the chest or upper back. Our patients describe it as feeling like they were stabbed with a knife.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Anxiety

  • Fainting, also known as syncope

  • Inability to make urine

  • Numbness, weakness, or coldness in the arms or legs

  • Pain in the neck, jaw, groin, or abdomen

  • Poor circulation in the hands or feet

  • Shortness of breath

  • Stroke

What causes aortic dissection?

Causes and risk factors include:


Computerized tomography (CT) scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology used to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)

Transesophageal echocardiogram allows us to take very detailed images of your heart structure from a probe in your esophagus.


Depending on the type and location of your aortic dissection, your doctor may recommend medication, surgery, or a minimally invasive stent to repair the tear.

Aortic Dissection Treatment

Treating an aortic dissection can include medication, minimally invasive procedures, or open surgery.

Additional information

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