Frequently Asked Questions: Aortic Disease

What is the aorta?

The aorta is the largest artery in your body. It originates from your heart and carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The aorta starts at the aortic valve and extends until it branches into the iliac arteries at the level of your navel.

What is aortic disease?

Aortic disease includes:

What is an aortic aneurysm?

It is an enlargement of the aorta, which can occur in the chest or abdomen. Aneurysms are a concern because they weaken the wall of the aorta. Risk factors for an aortic aneurysm may include age, gender, smoking, high blood pressure, connective tissue disorders, a family history of aortic aneurysms and others.

What causes an aortic aneurysm?

At this time no one knows how aneurysms develop or progress. We are committed through our research to find causes and improved treatment options. We do know that genetic factors and lifestyle choices can contribute to this condition.

What type of surgical interventions are available to treat an aortic aneurysm?

We have experts and pioneers in both open and endovascular surgical treatments. If you require surgery, our multidisciplinary team will select the best option for you.

What is "endovascular aortic" treatment? Is it better for me?

Endovascular procedures on the aorta mean that the treatment is minimally invasive and involves small incisions to access arteries versus an open surgery which requires large incisions. We have vast experience in endovascular treatment, and it may be a treatment option for you. However, we must evaluate each patient individually and consider all of the factors such as your aortic anatomy, current health, extent of the problem, risk factors, etc. to determine your most appropriate treatment plan.

Can aortic aneurysms be treated medically?

Medical management is necessary to treat aneurysms whether or not surgery has been performed. Just because you have an aneurysm doesn't necessarily mean you are going to need surgery. Medical management includes risk factor modification such as blood pressure and cholesterol control, healthy eating, exercise with possible restrictions and taking medication.

What are criteria for surgery?

That varies based on the location of the aneurysm, your individual risk factors, anatomy, and overall health and would be discussed with our multidisciplinary team to determine the best plan of care.

What is the normal size of an aorta?

It depends on many factors, including age, gender, and which segment of the aorta is being measured. Typical size of an abdominal aorta is 2.0 to 3.0 centimeters. An enlarged abdominal aorta is typically greater than 3.0 centimeters. All patients with an enlarged aorta who do not meet surgical criteria need regular surveillance and monitoring. This may include testing by CT scan or ultrasound imaging.

Is it dangerous for me to have an aortic aneurysm?

People who have aortic aneurysms are at higher risk of dissection based on the size, the patient's medical condition and heredity. An aortic dissection is when the layers of the aorta pull apart and blood gets trapped between them. This weakens the aorta and may cause it to rupture.

What type of physical restrictions do people with aortic aneurysms have?

This depends on the size, location and medical problems of the person with the aortic aneurysm. General restrictions for all patients with thoracic aneurysms include; no snow shoveling, chopping wood, digging hard earth or using a sledgehammer. No pushing, pulling or lifting more than 30 lbs. Avoid contact sports or any activity that could cause a direct blow to the chest.

What is an aortic valve?

The aortic valve is one of four heart valves. The aortic valve separates the left ventricle (which pumps blood to the body) from the aorta. It opens and closes automatically, based on pressure changes in your heart. A normal aortic valve has three leaflets. Some people are born with two leaflets; this is known as a bicuspid aortic valve.

What is aortic valve disease?

Damage to the aortic valve causes it to not open and close properly. There are two main types of aortic valve disease; stenosis and insufficiency.

What is aortic stenosis?

Aortic stenosis is a thickening of the valve leaflets making it difficult for them to open and close. This may cause your heart to have to work harder to pump blood. Patients with this condition may have no symptoms or may experience: chest discomfort, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting.

What is aortic insufficiency?

Aortic insufficiency or regurgitation occurs when the valve leaflets do not close properly and blood leaks back into the heart. This causes an overload of blood in the heart and may lead to heart failure. Symptoms of this condition include shortness of breath, fatigue, low energy level and possible light-headedness.

How is aortic valve disease treated?

Aortic valve disease can be treated either medically or surgically. This depends on the severity and/or your symptoms. Surgical treatment may consist of repair of the valve leaflets or replacement of the valve. Surgery can be either an open repair or minimally invasive based on your individual case.

I had a diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm, aortic valve disease or aortic dissection and want to be treated by the U-M Multidisciplinary Aortic Program - what do I need to do?

Call 1-888-287-1082 at our Cardiovascular Patient Care Center and we'll take care of you.

Will my insurance cover treatment for my aortic disease at UMHS?

The University of Michigan accepts many different insurance plans. Because every medical insurance policy is different, we recommend that you check with your insurance carrier to understand how much of the costs they will cover. You can also call our Cardiovascular Patient Care Center and a UMHS benefit specialist can assist you in determining your coverage.

How can the Cardiovascular Patient Care Center help me coordinate care and appointments?

Give us a call and we can help you with scheduling and talking to our team of doctors, as well as logistics like planning your travel and hotel accommodations. We are here to make your care as seamless as possible, and give you a single point of contact for any questions or concerns.

If you do make an appointment, we will need to collect the following information from you in order to make your visit as productive as possible:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Phone/Email
  • PCP (primary care physician) name/Phone number
  • Referring doctors name/Phone number
  • Most recent doctor's notes
  • Most recent lab work
  • Most recent cardiovascular testing including: stress tests, echocardiograms, chest or aortic CTs, cardiac catheterizations, carotid ultrasounds, etc.
  • Operative notes
  • Most recent radiology films (all testing should be on CD and labeled appropriately)

How long will I have to wait for a first appointment in the Multidisciplinary Aortic Program?

We make it a priority to schedule your appointment as quickly as possible. When you are ready, we will ensure a seamless schedule of testing, appointments, and/or surgery or intervention.

  • I'm not familiar with Ann Arbor, can you help me?

Yes, our Cardiovascular Patient Care Center can help you with travel plans, including hotels and any other information you may need. Call 888-287-1082 to get started.