Frequently Asked Questions

What did I do wrong to cause this?

Most patients did nothing wrong to cause this, and unfortunately, for many patients it is not possible to determine exactly what event caused the dissection. A common predisposing risk factor in over 70% of patients is high blood pressure. In addition, many patients may have had a structural abnormality or genetic condition that they did not know about.

Shouldn't I have been screened for one of the risk factors?

The number of patients with a structural abnormality or genetic condition is extremely low when compared to the general public. Unfortunately, at the moment it does not appear feasible to screen everyone for some of these genetic conditions. However, many primary doctors recognize that their patients may have a genetic conditoin; in these cases, the primary care physician may order tests to look for any associated structural abnormalities.

Is this a genetic condition?

In some patients, a genetic abnormality may have increased a patient's risk for dissection. For example, some families may be predisposed to the development of aortic aneursyms. In many other patients, however, it is not likely that genes were the primary factor involved.

Should my family members be screened?

If there is a history of aneurysms in family members or a history of early death in family members due to cardiac conditions, we recommend discussing these concerns with your primary doctor.

How long will I live?

There is no known life expectancy after an aortic dissection. Many physicians feel that with excellent blood pressure control and conscious limits to physical activity, patients can continue to lead long, full lives after a dissection.

Do I have to go on disability? Can I return to work?

With excellent blood pressure control and conscious limits to physical activity, patients can continue to lead long, full lives after a dissection. This would include returning to most jobs. Patients who work in physically demanding jobs such as construction, however, should discuss their work with their cardiologist.

Can I play sports?

While many patients are able to physically return to their previous physical conditioning and feel able to engage in strenuous activities such as sports, they should exercise caution. Strenuous activities such as sports will increase the stress on the aortic wall, increasing the risk for enlargement of the weakened aorta or even re-dissection. Mild-to-moderate exercise is usually considered OK, however this should be discussed with a cardiologist.

What about scuba diving?

Because of the increased pressure experienced from scuba diving, which increases with increased depth in the sea, we recommend patients discuss this with individually with a cardiologist. Many cardiologists would recommend against scuba diving, at least early after a recent dissection.

Can I drink alcohol?

Many cardiologists would agree that alcohol in moderation is permitted, and usually no more than 1 alcoholic beverage. Among other things, alcohol can affect or interact with some of the medications that patients who have suffered aortic dissections receive.

Am I going to have another dissection?

Redissection is or extension of the dissection can occur. However, it is unlikely in patients who maintain excellent blood pressure control and limit physical activity. These complications are most likely to occur within the first 2 years after a dissection. Patients should followup with their cardiologist and with serial imaging frequently during the first 2 years after a dissection, and every 1-2 years afterwards.

Can it affect my vision?

Dissections can affect vision, especially if the dissection involves the carotid arteries. In addition, some patients experience strokes as a result of a dissection which could also affect vision. Any concerns should be discussed with a physician.

Can I become pregnant?

Pregnancy shoudl be discussed with your cardiologist. Pregnancy increases the strain on the heart and aortic wall. In some patients with other risk factors such as connective tissue disorders, patients suffer an aortic dissection during pregnancy, likely because of the increased strain.

Can I have sex?

Similar to sports, strenuous sex can increase the stress experienced in the aortic wall. While sex is usually permitted, physicians would generally recommend against any strenuous sexual activity.

How do patients feel after surgery?

The surgery to repair an aortic dissection is quite invasive. Patients will experience pain and fatigue as they recover. Pain will be treated while in the hospital and many patients will receive medication to help control pain at home. In addition, ,any patients complain of a loss of energy for several months, however most patients will eventually recover.

How long is the hospital stay after surgery?

As surgery for aortic dissections is quite invasive, the average hospital stay is 7-10 days.

When will I regain energy?

It may require several months before patients regain energy after an aortic dissection. Please be patient and do not rush recovery!

I just had my aortic valve replaced and I hear a clicking sound. What is it?

Mechanical aortic valves can make a loud enough clicking sound that patients hear it, especially at night when trying to sleep. Usually, patients become accustomed to the sound and it does not affect their lifestyle.