Professor Ramon Varcoe

Aortic Aneurysm and Aortic Dissection

The aorta is the main blood vessel of the body. It leaves the heart heading towards the head before arching a full 180 degrees to traverse the chest and abdomen close to the body’s midline. Several branch arteries are given off to supply the brain, heart, kidneys, bowel and every other organ of the body.

Aneurysm is a disease whereby the wall of the aorta becomes weak and dilates, forming a shape more like a football rather than its normal tubular configuration. As the aortic wall dilates it becomes weak and may burst or rupture at a point that is predicted by its diameter. The larger the aneurysm the higher the risk. Aortic aneurysm is more common when family members are affected however smoking and high blood pressure are independent risk factors for the disease.

Aortic dissection is a different entity from aneurysm. It occurs when the inner lining of the aorta tears, usually as a result of high blood pressure or an inherent weakness. Blood rushes in under pressure and “dissects” for a distance causing severe pain in the chest or back. This may occlude artery branches or over time develop into an aneurysm. Both of these scenarios are life threatening.

Historically both of these syndromes were treated with open surgery where long incisions were made and patients spent considerable time in the intensive care unit and hospital ward afterwards. Now they are mostly treated with minimally invasive “stent-grafts” which not only reduce the stay in hospital but also significantly reduce the risk of surgery.

These “stent-grafts” are metal stents covered by impermeable fabric that come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some are even custom made by hand for individual patients. They work by re-lining the aorta and stay in place permanently. As an aortic aneurysm surgeon, Professor Varcoe performs these procedures “percutaneously” through tiny cuts in the skin of the groin that don’t even require a stitch.

For more information about Abdominal and Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms download a factsheet here.

For more information on our aortic aneurysm clinic in Sydney, please contact us.