Aortic Disease

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Cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons at Houston Methodist treat patients, not just aortic problems. Our specialists work together to deliver the best care for long-term and acute aortic diseases and conditions, including: 

  • Aortic aneurysms – a weakened section of the aorta, causing a bulge that can rupture
  • Aortic arch disease – blockage of the blood vessels that branch off of the aorta, leading to decreased blood flow to the body
  • Aortic dissections – a tear in the wall of the aorta
  • Aortic stenosis – a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve, which restricts blood flow
  • Marfan Syndrome – a genetic disorder that affects the heart’s connective tissue

Our Approach to Treating Aortic Disease

When aortic problems arise, patients know they can rely on our doctors and staff for prompt, patient-focused care.


For aortic conditions that require surgery, our cardiovascular surgeons have expertise in both minimally invasive techniques and traditional open surgery, as well as access to imaging technologies that make these treatments safer.


Our specialists also help you manage your aortic condition long-term by advising you on lifestyle changes, medications or interventional treatments that may prevent an aortic condition from becoming more severe. They also work with genetic counselors to determine if individuals with a family history of an aortic condition are at risk for developing the condition themselves.

About the Aorta and Aortic Disease

What is the Aorta?

The aorta serves as the main pathway for the transport of oxygenated blood from the heart through the body via smaller arteries. When affected by disease, the aorta can tear (dissection) or bulge (aneurysm).


Structure of the Aorta 
The aorta begins at the heart’s left ventricle and reaches up and out from the heart (this is called the ascending aorta). It then forms an arch (the aortic arch) and extends down into the abdomen (called the descending aorta).

The descending aorta has two parts:

  • The thoracic aorta is the portion of the descending aorta that passes through the chest.
  • The abdominal aorta is the portion of the descending aorta that passes through the abdomen.


The Aortic Wall 
The thick wall of the aorta has three layers:

  • The innermost layer, called the intima, creates a smooth surface for blood to flow over.
  • The middle layer, called the media, allows the aorta to expand and contract with each heartbeat.
  • The outer layer, called the adventitia, provides additional support and structure.

What Causes Aortic Disease?

Aortic disease has many causes, ranging from congenital (present at birth) to inherited. Aortic disease may also be caused by trauma or conditions usually associated with high levels of cholesterol or aging, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).


The plaque that builds up inside the blood vessels in people with these conditions may lead to a weakening of the aorta, which can bulge and form an aneurysm. Aortic aneurysms can rupture and cause bleeding that can be life-threatening. 

What Are the Symptoms of Aortic Disease?

Several noticeable symptoms associated with aortic diseases include:

  • Chest pain (angina) or tightness in the chest
  • Feeling faint or fainting with exertion
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
  • Fatigue, especially during times of increased activity
  • Heart palpitations (sensations of a rapid, fluttering heartbeat)
  • Heart murmur 

Aortic Program

The Aortic Program, part of the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, provides patients with aortic disease and conditions the most advanced care available. Our unique combination of unparalleled expertise and advanced technology enables us to offer each patient a treatment program tailored to his or her needs. Learn more >