Pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of aortic dissection

Ther Adv Cardiovasc Dis. 2008 Dec;2(6):439-68. doi: 10.1177/1753944708090830. Epub 2008 Sep 30.


Aortic dissection is an uncommon but potentially fatal disease with catastrophic complications. A high level of suspicion is required for successful diagnosis as presenting symptoms are so variable that dissection may be overlooked in up to 39% of cases. It most commonly presents in the elderly population with a history of chronic hypertension. Rapid intervention is necessary as delay leads to higher mortality. Despite advances in diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, morbidity and mortality remains high. Advances in diagnostic imaging have raised the awareness of variants of aortic dissection, including intramural hemorrhage and penetrating aortic ulcer. This distinction is important as the clinical course of these variants differs from that of classical aortic dissection, and thus treatment may also differ. Understanding of these variants has also led to the recognition of markers that may help predict progression to classical aortic dissection and thus warrant closer vigilance in selected patient populations. The recognition that rapid diagnosis is required for management of aortic dissection has led to the investigation of serum tests as diagnostic aids. Serum smooth muscle myosin heavy chain, d-dimer, and serum soluble elastin fragments are promising tests that may help raise suspicion for the diagnosis of acute aortic dissection. The high mortality associated with surgical therapy has led to investigation of alternative approaches. Endovascular therapy has emerged as a viable option in patients with type B dissection who are too unstable for surgery. However, long-term follow up is required to validate this procedure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aortic Aneurysm* / diagnosis
  • Aortic Aneurysm* / physiopathology
  • Aortic Aneurysm* / surgery
  • Aortic Dissection* / diagnosis
  • Aortic Dissection* / physiopathology
  • Aortic Dissection* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Ulcer* / diagnosis
  • Ulcer* / physiopathology
  • Ulcer* / surgery