Aortic Occlusion

The aorta is the largest artery (blood vessel) in the body and carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all parts of the body. Aortic occlusion is a blockage of the aorta somewhere along its path. Aortic occlusion can result in long-term damage to the organs.


Individuals suffering from aortic occlusion may experience:

  • Cramping or aching in the hip, buttocks, thigh, or calves after activity that goes away when activity is stopped, but that returns when activity is resumed.
  • Pain in the hip, buttocks, thighs, or calves that increases when climbing stairs or going uphill.
  • Pain in a limb when resting. This is a symptom of severe arterial blockage.


When aortic occlusion is suspected, a physician will perform a physical exam on the patient, ask questions about symptoms, and determine any risk factors for arterial disease. They will also order a study to check the patient's blood flow in the vascular laboratory. A vascular lab technician will check the blood flow in a patient's abdomen, legs, and feet to determine if there is adequate blood flow to the legs.

The diagnosis of aortic occlusion may involve several tests and procedures, including:

  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI): A series of blood pressure readings that compares the blood pressure in the ankle and foot with the blood pressure in the arm.
  • Doppler ultrasound: An ultrasound that looks at the blood flowing through the arteries. It can show changes in blood flow due to narrowing or blockage of an artery.
  • CT angiography: A CAT scan with IV contrast dye to determine the extent of blockage and to plan surgical repair.
  • Catheter angiography: Injection of contrast dye into the aorta through a tube inserted into the aorta from the leg artery or an artery in the arm.

Your doctor will use the results of these tests to determine the location and severity of the occlusion and make an accurate diagnosis. The specific diagnostic tests and procedures that are used will depend on your individual case, as well as the underlying cause of the occlusion.


Patients can take steps to reduce the arterial damage caused by atherosclerosis by quitting smoking immediately. Minimally invasive endovascular treatment would be recommended to improve circulation in the legs for patients who have severe abdominal aortic occlusion. If a blockage is more extensive or cannot be treated with an endovascular procedure, bypass surgery may be required.

Endovascular procedures available to repair a narrowed artery or short blockage include:

  • Angioplasty: Uses a tiny balloon to open blocked arteries. Once the artery has been unblocked, the balloon is deflated and removed.
  • Stenting: Insertion of a tiny wire mesh tube into an artery to hold it open. The collapsed stent is mounted onto a balloon catheter and guided across the blockage. The balloon is inflated to open the stent, which locks into place inside the artery. The balloon is deflated and removed, leaving the stent in place, holding the artery open.
  • Surgical bypass: The surgeon identifies a healthy section of an artery that is located above the site of the aortic occlusion. The healthy artery serves as the inflow point for the bypass graft. A synthetic graft is then selected and prepared. The graft is a tube-like structure that will serve as the new pathway for blood flow. One end of the graft is attached to the healthy artery above the aortic occlusion, and the other end is attached to a healthy artery below the occlusion. The graft effectively "bypasses" the blocked or narrowed segment of the aorta, allowing blood flow through the graft and into the lower extremities.

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To schedule an appointment to discuss arteriosclerotic aortic disease or any other cardiovascular condition, call us at 888-287-1082 or visit our Make a Cardiovascular Appointment page, where you can view other details about scheduling an appointment and learn what to expect when you call us.