Aortic dissection is initiated by a tear in the aortic intimal layer, causing it to separate from the medial layer.
The most commonly used classification for aortic dissection is the Stanford Classification, which designates dissections of the ascending aorta as Type A and dissections of the descending aorta as Type B.
Under the Stanford classification, a type A dissection defines any dissection that involves the ascending aorta. Note that this means a dissection involving the ascending and descending aorta would be classified as Type A.
A type B dissection is defined as a dissection involving the descending aorta.
Hypertension is a risk a factor for aortic dissection, as it causes increased wall pressure on the aortic intima, predisposing it to tear.
Aortic aneurysm is a risk factor for aortic dissection. The increased aortic diameter is associated with elevated wall stress on the aortic intima, which predisposes it to tear.
Marfan Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disease, is a known risk factor for the development of aortic dissection. In fact, up to 50% of young children with Marfan Syndrome may already have aortic dilatation, which will progress over time to aortic aneurysm. Aortic root disease in general in the form of dissection as well as aortic regurgitation is the main cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with Marfan Syndrome.
One of the common symptoms associated with aortic dissection is chest pain.
One of the signs of aortic dissection is variation in pulse (absence of a proximal extremity or carotid pulse) and/or blood pressure (>20 mmHg difference between the right and left arm).
Mediastinal widening on chest X ray is a potential sign of aortic dissection.
Type A dissections involving the ascending aorta require emergent surgical repair, as they can dissect back into the pericardium and cardiac tissue, causing tamponade, MI, or regurgitation.
Type B dissections are treated conservatively with beta blockers as they do not portend an immediate risk for a surgical emergency.
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