Find an Aortic Disease Specialist
Cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons at Houston Methodist treat people, not just aortic problems. Our specialists work together to deliver the best care for acute and long-term 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
If an aortic problem arises, you can rely on our doctors and staff for prompt, patient-focused care.
Our experts work as a team to treat your specific aortic condition by designing an individualized treatment plan, which can include medication or surgery.
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
How is Aortic Disease Treated?
Depending on the type and severity of your aortic condition, your care team may use a variety of different treatment options, including:
- Minimally invasive surgery
- Hybrid surgery
Medications for Aortic Disease
Medications may be prescribed to control your blood pressure and also to alleviate pain caused by your aortic condition. In some cases, beta blockers may be used to prevent arrhythmias.
For many people, medications alone can significantly slow the progression of an aortic disease, such as aortic aneurysm.
Surgery for Aortic Disease
In some cases, treating your specific aortic condition may require an open surgical approach, including:
- Aortic aneurysm repair – replaces damaged blood vessels with synthetic grafts
- Aortic root repair – replaces the damaged blood vessel wall with a synthetic tube, as well as the entire aortic root if it is diseased
- Aortic valve-sparing root replacement – used when the root is bulging but the valve leaflets remain healthy, the aortic root is replaced while maintaining aortic valve function
Minimally Invasive Surgery for Aortic Disease
Compared to open surgery, minimally invasive surgery allows for a considerably shorter recovery period and usually requires no incisions. Whenever possible, our experts will use these less invasive options to treat your aortic condition.
For instance, some aortic aneurysms can be treated via stent repair. This procedure allows the surgeon to replace the blood vessel wall, relieving pressure and preventing further bulging, by inserting a stent through a small puncture in your groin.
Hybrid Surgical Options for Aortic Disease
There are also procedures that combine open surgery and minimally invasive surgery to treat aortic conditions, such as aortic arch de-branching. During this procedure, synthetic grafts are used to reroute blood to the vessels leading from the aortic arch — preventing interruption of blood flow to the brain and arms. The surgeon also implants a stent that isolates the diseased portion of the aorta.