Anatomy of the Human Heart Acute aortic syndrome is a serious heart condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the rest of the body, malfunctions due to a tear (dissection), bleeding in the wall of the aorta (a hematoma), or an ulceration. Acute aortic syndromes are life-threatening and require immediate medical care. Statistics suggest that the risk of mortality increases quickly after the onset of an acute aortic dissection, so rapid diagnosis and treatment is critical.

Acute aortic syndromes occur in two groups of people. Most tend to be older people (65 years+) who have conditions such as high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. Another group is younger patients who may have a genetic predisposition, such as a connective tissue disorder like Marfan syndrome, or have experienced trauma. In cases where a patient has a genetic predisposition, physicians may recommend that family members also undergo screening and genetic testing to assess their risk of developing an acute aortic syndrome.

Though acute aortic syndromes are relatively rare, aortic diseases do become more common with age and risk factors like smoking. It is important to be regularly evaluated by your physician, particularly if you are over 65, have ever smoked, or have cardiovascular disease, a family history, or a condition that increases your risk.

The most commonly reported symptom of an acute aortic syndrome is chest and/or back pain that is severe at its onset and is persistent. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures may include advanced imaging, such as a CT scan and echocardiogram. Patients with acute aortic syndrome may require emergency surgery to repair the damaged aorta. They also require close follow-up, because over time patients are at risk of developing further complications, such as an aneurysm due to a weakened aorta.

In this video, Dr. Marc Bonaca, a cardiologist in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, describes the Acute Aortic Syndrome Program, which brings together physicians from multiple heart and vascular specialties to rapidly diagnose and treat patients who present with acute aortic syndromes.


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