Aortic Ulcers - Atherosclerosis of the Aorta | MedStar Health

When atherosclerosis penetrates the wall of the aorta

Aortic ulcer is a rare disease, but it is known by many names: penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer and atherosclerosis of the aorta, just to name a few.

The aorta is the largest artery in your body, and it takes blood from the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber that pumps the heart, and delivers it to the rest of the body. Fatty clumps in the blood called plaque can build up in the aorta and form an ulcer, or cratering, over time. The ulcer can penetrate the wall of the aorta, decreasing blood flow and allowing blood to leak and cause internal bleeding.

Having an aortic ulcer puts you at risk for aortic dissection, a tear in the aorta that could rupture. Aortic ulcers can be life-threatening, and immediate treatment may be needed.


What are the symptoms of an aortic ulcer, and who’s at risk?

Symptoms of this disease usually begin soon after the ulcer forms. Your symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Excess sweating
  • Extreme abdominal pain or back pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pain in the chest, back, arms, or legs
  • Pale skin
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Weakness


Aortic ulcers often are diagnosed in older adults because plaque builds up in the arteries over time. If you have one of the following conditions or behaviors, you may be at greater risk:


Abdominal Duplex Ultrasound

Abdominal duplex ultrasound is a combination of a traditional and Doppler ultrasound that assesses the blood vessels in your abdomen for blockages or aneurysms.

Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

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 to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


Our heart and vascular experts may recommend medication first, though surgery may be needed to repair the damage to the aortic wall.

Aortic Surgery

Aortic surgery describes a variety of procedures to treat conditions that affect the aorta.

Endovascular Complex Repair of Thoracoabdominal Aneurysms

Endovascular complex repair of thoracoabdominal aneurysms is a minimally invasive treatment that involves smaller incisions, less pain and faster recovery than traditional open surgery for these aneurysms, which often can be difficult to treat.

Additional information

Complex Aortic Program

Partner with a recognized leader in offering care and disease management for the most complex aortic disorders.

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