Human Anatomy – Aorta

Of the numerous arteries in the body, the aorta is by far the largest. It is the blood’s way out to the body from the heart.

Measuring one foot in length, the aorta has four divisions. In its first 2 inches, the aorta ascends from the left ventricle, branching out along the way into coronary arteries. After this comes the aortic arch, whose branches send blood to the brain, arms and neck. The aorta then curves down towards the chest, where it branches out to deliver blood to the ribs and nearby body parts. Finally the aorta ends up in the abdomen and diverges into two iliac arteries, which supplies blood to the vital organs.

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Every heartbeat entails the heart to pump blood into the aorta. Three leaflets, collectively called the aortic valve, regulate the flow of blood into the aorta.

As is the case in every artery, the wall of the aorta is composed of three layers. The innermost layer, called the intima, has an even surface, allowing blood to race across it. Directly above the intima is a muscular layer called the media, which lets the aorta contract and expand with every heartbeat. The adventitia, the third layer, fortifies the aorta.


Aorta diseases and conditions

Sometimes, the wall of the aorta can deteriorate. This condition leads to an aneurysm, wherein a part of the aorta inflates like a balloon. When it bursts, an aneurysm becomes life-threatening.

Likewise, the three layers comprising the aorta wall can detach from each other, often due to high blood pressure. This condition, called an aortic dissection, is also fatal.

If not fatal, an aorta condition may lead to a stroke. This happens especially with an aortic atherosclerosis, when plaque due to high cholesterol levels accumulates in the aorta.

All but a compromised aortic valve can have disastrous consequences. An incompletely closed aortic valve brings about aortic regurgitation or insufficiency, wherein blood flows back into the left ventricle. Common causes include Marfan’s syndrome and endocarditis. Autoimmune diseases may also cause regurgitation, as well as aortitis (inflammation of the aorta).

Rather than close incompletely, the aortic valve may hamper blood flow. This condition causes aortic stenosis. It typically results from rheumatic fever and exhibits symptoms like chest pains and trouble breathing.

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Some people are born with an aortic coarctation. This is a defect where the aorta narrows down in the area where it branches out to supply blood to the legs and arms. There are even rarer cases when individuals are born with a bicuspid aortic valve, or a valve with two instead of three leaflets. This defect may worsen into stenosis or aortic regurgitation.

Treating aorta conditions

Heart surgeons play an immense part in treating aorta-related conditions. Many aortic conditions, e.g. aortic aneurysm, coarctation and dissection, require surgery.

In the case of an aortic aneurysm on the verge of rupturing, the surgeon may do an abdominal incision and replace the damaged part with an artificial mesh. This procedure is called an endograft.

If the aortic valve is significantly compromised, the surgeon may replace it with an artificial one or that of a swine.

Tests for aorta conditions

Tests typically involve the injection of a contrast material into the blood to make the aorta visible on X-ray images. This test is known as an angiogram or aortogram.

Another aorta test, called transthoracic echocardiogram, involves placing an ultrasound probe on the chest. However, the breastbone or sternum tends to block the view of the aorta as to make effective diagnoses from this test.

More doctors, then, try to use transesophageal echocardiograms if possible. This involves advancing an ultrasound probe towards the esophagus, via the mouth. It is a good test, insofar as it offers unobstructed views of a part of the aorta. For parts of the aorta near the abdomen, no more than a basic ultrasound is needed.

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MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT scans (computed tomography) also go a long way in diagnosing conditions of the aorta. Such tests, let alone regular checkups, make for healthy lifestyle prevention measures against these afflictions.

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2 Responses

  1. healy says:

    the basis of this article is just a simple sense of understanding. We have to take care of our health specially our heart. The aorta carried oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. It’s parts are the ascending aorta, aortic arch, descending aorta and abdominal aorta. We should eat nutritious foods so that we can still face the future

  2. Mimbarz says:

    aorta is one of the most inportant to know how it works….good.

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