- Reviewed by Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing
The aorta — the conduit that carries blood from the heart to the body — is a bit wider than a garden hose where it emerges from the heart. This thick-walled vessel curves up and over the heart in a gentle arc, narrowing slightly as it extends down through the center of the body. As is true for most heart problems, smoking and high blood pressure can heighten the risk of problems with the aorta. But so can genes and certain medical conditions, which can weaken the wall of the aorta. As a result, the aortic wall may tear (aortic dissection) or bulge outward (aortic aneurysm) and possibly rupture.
Although aortic disease is far less prevalent than many types of heart disease, a ruptured aortic aneurysm is often life-threatening. That’s why early detection, monitoring, and treatment of aortic disease are vital. "There’s a real need for greater awareness about aortic disease, not just among the general public but also among physicians, who may not appreciate the risk factors and screening recommendations," says Dr. Eric Isselbacher, co-director of the Thoracic Aortic Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. He chaired the writing committee for the updated American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines for aortic disease, published in November 2022.
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About the Author
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter
About the Reviewer
Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing
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