Medical Q&As

Dissection of the aorta - incidence?

My husband died suddenly last year, aged 41, as a result of dissection of the thoracic aorta. What is the incidence of this condition in Ireland? How many patients have surgery for this condition in Ireland each year and of this number, how many have a successful outcome?

Dissection of the thoracic aorta involves bleeding into the wall of the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body. The thoracic portion of the aorta is the first part of that artery and is connected to the left ventricle, which is one of the chambers of the heart. Dissection means that blood enters the wall of the aorta and spreads along the length of the artery wall resulting in weakening of the wall with a resultant risk of actual rupture of the aorta. The blood enters the wall of the aorta through a tear in the lining of the wall. Aortic dissection is a life threatening condition that can evolve very rapidly. It can be surgically repaired if the aorta has not ruptured. If rupture occurs there is a very high mortality rate. Given the pace at which this event takes place many people die before the condition is even diagnosed. I cannot answer your specific questions about incidence because that data has not been gathered and published in this country. I am aware of published data from the Mater Hospital that stated that there are approximately 200 deaths per annum from aortic aneurysm in the republic of Ireland. Several of these deaths would be due to dissection of the thoracic aorta. This figure was derived from annual vital statistics from 1951 to 1990. Based on these figures the incidence of dissection of the thoracic aorta would be less than 6 per 100,000 head of population. If the condition is diagnosed before rupture of the aorta it can be surgically repaired but such surgical intervention still carries a high mortality rate. If rupture occurs the prognosis is very poor.