American Family Children's Hospital

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Aortic Aneurysm/Dissection

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(608) 263-1530
(608) 263-8915
(608) 263-6420


Related Resources

Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program

Pediatric Congenital Heart Disease Program

Internet Resources
normal aortaThe aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood to the rest of the body. In patients with Marfan Syndrome, the walls of the aorta are weaker than normal.
This can cause the aorta to enlarge and stretch. An abnormal bulge in the wall of the aorta (an aneurysm) may develop. The inner and outer layers of the aortic wall can also separate (a dissection).
Aortic Aneurysm/Dissection Treatment
What to Expect After Adult Congenital Cardiac Surgery 


Concerns and Symptoms

aortic aneurysmMild aortic enlargement may not cause any noticeable symptoms at first. An enlarged aorta, however, may allow blood to leak back into the heart, due to aortic valve insufficiency. This can cause shortness of breath and a pounding heartbeat.
More severe aortic enlargement can further weaken the aortic wall, causing the aneurysm to enlarge or dissect.
Symptoms of an aortic aneurysm include:
  • Upper back pain
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling in the neck or arms 
Symptoms of an aortic dissection usually appear suddenly. They include:
  • Severe, stabbing pain in the center of the chest, abdomen, or back
  • Decreased ability to move an arm, leg, or other part of the body
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

aortic dissectionFor patients with Marfan Syndrome, it is extremely important to monitor the aorta for signs of progressive enlargement and/or an aneurysm. Using ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), surgeons can determine the size of a developing aortic aneurysm.


If the aortic diameter expands rapidly or reaches a critical size (usually about 4.5 to 5 cm), planned surgical repair is recommended. If surgery is performed early, before a rupture or dissection, hospital survival rates are much higher. In addition, performing surgery early increases long-term life expectancy, because there are fewer residual complications associated with aortic dissection (false lumen).


However, if an aneurysm ruptures or a dissection tears, it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Even with emergency surgery, the risk of mortality is up to 10 times higher.