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When most people think of artery disease, they think of atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries), a common condition that happens when sticky plaque deposits collect inside the walls of the arteries. But there are other types of artery diseases, including problems that affect the biggest artery in your body — the aorta.
Aa a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Allison Burkett, MD, FACS, has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating aortic disease in her patients at Middle Georgia Vascular Surgery in Warner Robins, Georgia. Here’s what she wants you to know about aortic disease, including its symptoms and its management.
The aorta carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart to every other part of your body via a series of smaller “branches.” The main branch travels from the heart through the chest and belly before branching off into the iliac arteries, the primary arteries in your legs.
Because the aorta supplies the rest of your body with blood, aortic disease can cause serious and even life-threatening complications. Roughly 15,000 Americans die every year as a result of the disease.
Like other arterial diseases, aortic disease is more common among people with specific risk factors, including:
The disease is also more common among people with atherosclerosis and certain medical conditions that affect your connective tissues. Injuries and infections may also increase the risk of aortic disease.
The three main types of aortic disease include aneurysm, dissection, and narrowing or occlusion.
An aneurysm is a weak spot that forms in the wall of the aorta. As blood flows past the weak area, it causes the wall to bulge outward.
Aneurysms can form anywhere along the aorta, but they’re more common in the part of the aorta that travels through your belly, called the abdominal aorta. Larger aneurysms are more prone to rupture, which is a life-threatening event. Most aneurysms don’t cause symptoms, although some abdominal aneurysms can cause belly discomfort.
An arctic dissection happens when a weakness or defect in the aortic wall “splits” or tears, allowing blood to seep between the layers of the vessel wall. This new channel creates a second pathway for blood, creating serious problems with circulation. Dissection is often associated with back pain.
Aortic narrowing happens when blood flow is restricted in the abdominal aorta, interfering with blood flow into the legs and the lower part of your body. The lack of oxygen-rich blood is often associated with leg pain, which can occur with minimal exercise or even at rest. Severe narrowing can result in complete blockage or occlusion.
Aortic disease treatment varies based on the type of disease and its severity, among other factors. Depending on your needs, Dr. Burkett may recommend medications to control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, in addition to recommending lifestyle changes, like smoking cessation.
She often recommends close monitoring for smaller aneurysms before recommending medical intervention. When medical intervention is necessary, Dr. Burkett typically uses stents to treat aneurysms, dissection, and aortic narrowing. In cases of severe narrowing, she may recommend bypass surgery.
Dr. Burkett is dedicated to helping her patients stay healthy with state-of-the-art medical care tailored to their needs. To learn more about aortic disease treatment at Middle Vascular Surgery Center, call 478-779-1920 or book an appointment online today.