Richard Holbrooke Dies: What is a Torn Aorta?
Most of has have heard the sad news by now: Richard Holbrooke, the veteran U.S. diplomat who helped bring peace to Bosnia and served as President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has died at the age of 69 of complications from a torn aorta.
What is a torn aorta?
The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the left ventricle of the heart to branch arties. When it tears, blood from inside of the aorta gets into the walls of the aorta. When this happens it can rupture out of the aorta, and a lot of blood is lost. Or, it can stay within the walls but as it dissects, it can shut off various arteries from the head to the kidneys, to wherever the tear travels.
Approximately 10,000 Americans each year suffer an aortic tear. It is often genetic and thus runs in families. There are certain inherited conditions that weaken the aorta. One such inherited defect is Marfan's Syndrome, which causes a weakening of the aortic wall that can lead to aortic dissection. Other conditions that can cause a torn aorta are atherosclerosis (a condition in which an artery wall thickens as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol) or high blood pressure. Older people are at higher risk.
The tear itself is very sudden. The condition has been described by patients as a ripping or tearing-type of pain; or, as an over-all non-specific sensation of extreme pain.