What is the pathophysiology of acute aortic dissection (AAD)?

Updated: Nov 09, 2018
  • Author: John M Wiesenfarth, MD, FACEP, FAAEM; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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Aortic dissection essentially features a tear in the intimal layer, followed by the formation and propagation of a subintimal hematoma. The dissecting hematoma commonly occupies up to 50% and, occasionally, 100% of the aortic circumference, leading to the development of a false lumen or double-barreled aorta. This can reduce the flow of blood to any of the major arteries arising from the aorta. If the dissection involves the pericardial space, cardiac tamponade can result.

The normal aorta contains collagen, elastin, and smooth muscle cells, which help contribute to the layers of the aorta, the intima, the media, and the adventitia. Degenerative changes associated with aging lead to the breakdown of the collagen, elastin, and smooth muscle, as well as to an increase in basophilic ground substance. This is termed cystic medial necrosis, the hallmark histologic change associated with dissection and with Marfan syndrome.

Any disease that weakens the strength of the aortic wall will predispose one to aortic dissection. Shearing forces give rise to the separation of the layers in the media of the aorta. Intimal rupture occurs at points of fixation along the aorta where the hydraulic stress is maximal. The most common site is the first few centimeters of the ascending aorta, with 90% found within 10 cm of the aortic valve. The second most common site is just distal to the left subclavian artery.

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