Type A Aortic Dissection: Risk Factors, Signs and Symptoms, and Treatments Available

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What is a Type A Aortic Dissection?

Type A aortic dissection generally happens as the result of injury, such as a tear, to the aorta’s inner wall. These tears are problematic because they tend to generate a second channel within the artery where the blood remains stagnant. Aortic aneurysms may arise in which a section of the aorta broadens or balloons out. These aneurysms may burst and are often lethal.

Aortic dissections are typically classified as type A or type B by the Stanford classification system. Type A and B affect the ascending and descending aorta, respectively.

Risk Factors Associated with Type A Aortic Dissections

There is no one specific cause for type A aortic dissection. There are, however, several known risk factors that contribute to the development of the condition. These risks include the following:

  • Crack cocaine usage;
  • Cardiac catheterization;
  • Atherosclerosis;
  • Hypertension;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Aging;
  • Bicuspid aortic valve;
  • Congenital aortic stenosis;
  • Connective tissue disorders;
  • Aortic coarctation;
  • Family history of aortic dissections;
  • Turner syndrome;
  • Adult polycystic kidney disease;
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta;
  • Metabolic disorders;
  • Noonan syndrome;
  • Heart-related surgery;
  • Cardiac procedures;
  • Marfan syndrome;
  • Pseudoxanthoma elasticum;
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome;
  • Syphilis- and arteritis-related vascular inflammation.

Type A Aortic Dissection Signs and Symptoms

The onset of symptoms occurs rather quickly upon the development of the aortic dissection. Most are inflicted with the sudden onset of chest pain. Individuals have described the pain as being severe in nature, radiating to other parts of the body, such as the jaw, arm, and neck. They often feel no relief of their symptoms when changing positions.

Signs and symptoms are not limited to severe chest pain. Additional symptoms associated with type A aortic dissections can include dizziness, fainting, orthopnea, pallor, disorientation, confusion, nausea and vomiting, profuse sweating, rapid pulse, Horner syndrome, dyspnea, myocardial infarction, syncope,and dysphagia.

Patients with any of the above signs and/or symptoms must be seen by their health care provider immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Prognosis and Treatment Options for Type A Aortic Dissections

Unfortunately, the prognosis for an aortic dissection is dismal if left untreated. According to Dissection, Aortic, by John M. Wiesenfarth, “When left untreated, about 33% of patients die within the first 24 hours, and 50% die within 48 hours.”

Surgical intervention is the only cure for aortic dissections; however, surgery must be conducted immediately to prevent further complications, such as an aortic rupture, which can lead to death. Several medicines are available with the common goal of preventing further problems. Physicians may prescribe anti-hypertensives to those that need to lower their blood pressure to prevent any further complications. Patients have found relief of their cardiac symptoms by taking various heart medications.

Invasive surgeries, such as an aortic valve replacement and a coronary bypass, may be required by patients with a damaged aortic valve or who have arterial complications.


The above article is for educational purposes only. Diagnosis and treatment recommendations should only be made by a licensed health care provider.


  1. eMedicine website. Dissection, Aortic. Accessed December 16, 2010.[1-3,6]
  2. MedlinePlus website. Aortic dissection. Accessed December 16, 2010.[4,5]