How to Prevent a Potentially Fatal Aortic Dissection

How to Prevent a Potentially Fatal Aortic Dissection

High blood pressure is a well-known medical condition that many people understand is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Unfortunately, high blood pressure is also a risk for lesser known but no less serious conditions. High blood pressure is the most common cause of aortic dissections, a condition whose symptoms can be mistaken for a stroke or heart attack and are often fatal. While some hereditary and environmental conditions can lead to aortic dissections, controlling blood pressure can help prevent most aortic dissections. Prevention begins with understanding the relationship between these two conditions.

Understanding High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common medical condition in which blood pressure flows through the arteries with a force that is consistently higher than normal. When blood continuously flows through your arterial system with high force, it can damage your cardiovascular system and increase your risk for strokes, heart attacks, and other potentially fatal medical conditions.

Unfortunately, high blood pressure does not always present with symptoms that are noticeable by the patient. As many as half of all American adults suffer from high blood pressure without knowing it. Unless they are seeing their primary care provider for regular check-ups, they may not be made aware of their high blood pressure until they present for evaluation for another medical condition. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be prevented in many ways, especially through healthy lifestyle choices.

Understanding Aortic Dissections
An aortic dissection is a condition that occurs when the inner lining of the aorta - the body's largest artery - separates from the aortic wall's middle layer. This commonly occurs due to the deterioration of the aortic wall, many times because of high blood pressure. And when it occurs, the results can be fatal. People who suffer an aortic dissection typically experience severe, tearing pain (which can induce fainting) in the location where the dissection is occurring. 

An aortic dissection may also cause a rection in blood flow to other parts of the circulatory system, often resulting in additional complications such as stroke, heart attack, renal failure, or spine and nerve damage.

When people develop chest pain and are rushed to the ER, a conventional chest X-ray may show a severely enlarged aorta, which is a well-established sign of aortic dissection. However, an enlarged aorta can also be indicative of other cardiac conditions and therefore additional imaging modalities such as computerized tomography angiography (CTA), or echocardiography may be necessary.

While high blood pressure is one of the most common causes of aortic dissections, several other conditions put people at risk for this condition. Certain congenital abnormalities and hereditary disorders that narrow the aorta can increase one's risk. Arteriosclerosis, a condition in which the arteries thicken and harden, resulting in abnormal blood flow, is also a risk factor. Some chest injuries can also result in aortic dissections. Additionally, the natural aging process can compromise the aortic wall's integrity to some degree, creating an increased risk of dissection. necessitating preventative measures.

Preventing Aortic Dissections
While certain risk factors such as genetics, accidents, and aging are unavoidable, high blood pressure certainly is avoidable. High blood pressure prevention starts with a healthy diet, active lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight. It is well known that obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure.

Smoking and alcohol can raise blood pressure as well and should be avoided. And while many people may find it challenging, getting sufficient, good quality sleep is essential. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.

Preventing high blood pressure starts with knowing your current blood pressure measurements. And, if your pressures are elevated, working with experienced healthcare providers on a plan to get your blood pressure within an acceptable range is the next step.

Go Back