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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Diseases of the Thoracic Aorta

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It extends from the heart, down through the chest (thoracic aorta) and into the abdomen (abdominal aorta), carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. 

Thoracic aortic diseases include:

Aortic aneurysms  Infections 
Aortic dissections  Traumatic injury 
Atherosclerotic disease   

Ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysms and aortic dissections represent life-threatening emergencies that require immediate medical attention.

Thoracic aortic aneurysms affect approximately 15,000 people in the United States each year.

Team-Based Approach for Treatment


The Thoracic Aortic Disease program at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is designed to manage all aspects of thoracic aortic disease from the aortic valve down through the thoraco-abdominal aorta. This program is led by co-directors:

S. Chris Malaisrie, MD
Cardiac Surgeon 
Mark K. Eskandari, MD
Vascular Surgeon 


They have established a comprehensive system of care to treat thoracic aortic disease that relies on an integrated, team-based approach that includes:
Specialized nurses  Radiologists 
Anesthesiologists  Neurologists 

This team of specialists works together to ensure state-of-the-art patient care, using the most advanced therapies available, practicing the safest techniques of circulation management using specialized perfusion techniques during surgery on the thoracic area.

The team uses a comprehensive monitoring system that tracks heart, brain, and spinal cord function during surgery. This helps the Thoracic Aortic Disease program team achieve better long-term clinical outcomes for each patient.

Treatment Options for Aortic Aneurysm


The treatment options for aortic aneurysm include: 


Surgical repair is necessary when the thoracic aortic aneurysm reaches a significant size (5-6 cm) that increases the risk of dissection or rupture.

Anatomy of the Thoracic Aorta


To understand thoracic aortic disease, including thoracic aortic aneurysm and dissection, it is helpful to understand the parts of the thoracic aorta, including:

Aortic valve  Descending aortic arch 
Aortic root  Thoraco-abdominal aorta 
Ascending thoracic aorta  Abdominal aorta 
Transverse aortic arch   



Aorta with its major branches.

Symptoms of Thoracic Aortic Disease


Thoracic aortic aneurysms develop slowly and are typically without symptoms (asymptomatic). However, if symptoms are present, they may include:

Chest pain  Wheezing 
Back pain  Difficulty swallowing 
Hoarseness  Cough 
Most common type of aortic aneurysms: thoracic and abdominal.
In addition, the following can be a sign of more serious disease:
Sudden and severe chest pain  Shortness of breath 
Fainting  Weakness 
Leg pain or numbness   

Diagnosis of Thoracic Aortic Disease


The following tests may help your physician diagnose thoracic aortic disease, including:

Clinical Trials for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm


Several clinical research trials are currently underway at the Center for Vascular Disease and Center for Heart Valve Disease to investigate and improve the care for patients with thoracic aortic disease. These ongoing clinical research trials  help to ensure that our patients with thoracic aortic disease continue to receive the most innovative care in the country.

For more information regarding these clinical trials, visit the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern, send an e-mail or call 312-926-4000.

Contact Us


For more information regarding thoracic aortic disease and the treatments available, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 866-662-8467. To schedule an appointment, please call 312-695-4965 or request a first-time appointment online.


Last UpdateMay 29, 2013