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Diseases of the Aorta

As the body’s largest blood vessel, the aorta carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. Conditions that affect the aorta can damage or weaken it, causing life-threatening emergencies that require immediate medical attention.

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, we offer specialized care for aortic diseases. Our multidisciplinary team provides detailed evaluation to accurately diagnose all types of aortic disease, including those caused by genetic syndromes. With our cardiac and vascular surgery colleagues, we manage acute aortic emergencies and develop customized treatment plans for lifelong care to help you live a healthy life. 

Aortic Disease Treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital 

Our Heart & Vascular Center is one of the largest in the country for managing and treating diseases of the aorta. People come to us from hundreds of miles around because we offer: 

  • Nationally known expertise in aortic disease: Since the early 1990s, we have provided care for hundreds of people each year with complex diseases of the aorta. Our team has advanced training and extensive experience to recognize the signs of genetic syndromes that can affect the aorta. We provide exceptional care for individuals with aortic diseases and for families who have heritable thoracic aortic conditions.
  • 24/7 rapid response for aortic emergencies: Certain life-threatening aortic diseases, such as aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection, require immediate medical care. Our heart and vascular surgeons, anesthesiologists, imaging specialists and other providers are ready at a moment’s notice for people who need emergency surgery.
  • Multidisciplinary care to manage inherited aortic disease: Genetic disorders, such as Marfan syndrome and other heritable thoracic aortic diseases (HTAD), require lifelong management from a multidisciplinary team of specialists. You may receive care from cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, vascular surgeons, geneticists, imaging doctors and other providers, who combine their expertise in a team approach. We monitor you regularly, providing ongoing care to help you live successfully with diseases of the aorta.
  • Groundbreaking research: We are at the forefront of research to understand the causes of aortic disease and related genetic disorders. We participate in clinical trials and research groups dedicated to advancing treatment for genetic thoracic aortic diseases. Learn more about our innovation

Aortic Diseases We Treat 

At our Heart & Vascular Center, our specialist team treats diseases of the aorta such as aneurysms and dissections: 

  • Aortic aneurysm: This condition is a weakened area in the aorta’s wall that bulges, which can cause the aorta to rupture or tear (dissect).
  • Aortic dissection: Damage to the inner wall of the aorta can cause it to tear. A dissection can reduce blood flow to organs or cause the aorta to burst.

Our multidisciplinary team manages care for people with heritable conditions that affect the aorta, including:

  • Bicuspid aortic valve: Some people may be born with a heart valve that has only two flaps (leaflets) instead of three. This condition is associated with aneurysms in the part of the aorta nearest the heart.
  • Marfan syndrome: This syndrome affects connective tissue and causes signs and symptoms in the skeleton, eyes, heart valves, lungs and aorta.
  • Loeys-Dietz syndrome: This disorder is similar to Marfan, causing a wide range of signs and symptoms in the skeleton, skin, blood vessels and aorta.
  • Nonsyndromic heritable thoracic aortic disease (HTAD): Some inherited aortic aneurysms or dissections run in families. These conditions result from genetic changes (mutations) but are not related to a syndrome.
  • Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: This disorder is a more severe form of Ehlers-Danlos due to a specific genetic change (mutation). It affects connective tissue and leads to aortic and other blood vessel disease.
  • Turner syndrome: This genetic syndrome affects females, causing a variety of conditions and symptoms, including aortic disease and bicuspid aortic valve.

Evaluation and Treatments for Diseases of the Aorta

Our team provides a thorough, comprehensive evaluation to uncover the causes of aortic disease and can provide long-term management. Our cardiologists also provide care for women with genetic and other aortic conditions who are considering pregnancy. We provide guidance for exercise and physical activity for people with genetic and other aortic conditions.

If you have symptoms of a genetic disorder, our geneticist and genetic counselors may offer testing and counseling to help guide treatment planning. We also may assist with testing for family members to determine their risk and decide on options for managing their care.  

Depending on your specific situation, you may need one or more treatment options to manage diseases of the aorta. Find out more about our long-term treatment options and surgery for emergency aortic conditions such as aneurysms.

Our Team for Diseases of the Aorta

Your care team includes doctors, surgeons and other providers from a range of medical specialties, including:

  • cardiologists who diagnose, treat and monitor aortic disease using medications and imaging
  • cardiac surgeons who operate to repair thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysms and dissections
  • vascular surgeons who operate on blood vessels to repair abdominal aortic aneurysms and aortic dissections
  • geneticists and genetic counselors who provide comprehensive testing for genetic syndromes and counseling to help decide on treatment 

If you have a genetic syndrome related to diseases of the aorta, we coordinate your care with other specialists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, including:

  • ophthalmologists who evaluate and treat diseases and disorders affecting the eyes
  • orthopedic surgeons who operate to repair and treat conditions affecting bones, joints and muscles
  • maternal-fetal medicine specialists who provide advanced ob/gyn care for women with high-risk pregnancies

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 314-362-1291.