Heart Health

Raising awareness about aortic disease

New guidelines highlight the risks and screening recommendations for conditions affecting the body’s largest blood vessel.

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

illustration of human internal organs with yellow lightning bolts near the heart and lower esophagus

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

photo of Julie Corliss

Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Julie Corliss is the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter. Before working at Harvard, she was a medical writer and editor at HealthNews, a consumer newsletter affiliated with The New England Journal of Medicine. She … See Full Bio
View all posts by Julie Corliss

About the Reviewer

photo of Christopher P. Cannon, MD

Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Christopher P. Cannon is editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. He is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior physician in the Preventive Cardiology section of the Cardiovascular Division at … See Full Bio
View all posts by Christopher P. Cannon, MD

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