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The aorta is the conduit through which blood ejected from the left ventricle is delivered to the systemic arterial bed. In adults, its diameter is approximately 3 cm at the origin and in the ascending portion, 2.5 cm in the descending portion in the thorax, and 1.8–2 cm in the abdomen. The aortic wall consists of a thin intima composed of endothelium, subendothelial connective tissue, and an internal elastic lamina; a thick tunica media composed of smooth muscle cells and extracellular matrix; and an adventitia composed primarily of connective tissue enclosing the vasa vasorum and nervi vascularis. In addition to the conduit function of the aorta, its viscoelastic and compliant properties serve a buffering function. The aorta is distended during systole to allow a portion of the stroke volume and elastic energy to be stored, and it recoils during diastole so that blood continues to flow to the periphery. Owing to its continuous exposure to high pulsatile pressure and shear stress, the aorta is particularly prone to injury and disease resulting from mechanical trauma. The aorta is also more prone to rupture than is any other vessel, especially with the development of aneurysmal dilation, since its wall tension, as governed by Laplace’s law (i.e., proportional to the product of pressure and radius), will be increased.


Congenital anomalies of the aorta usually involve the aortic arch and its branches. Symptoms such as dysphagia, stridor, and cough may occur if an anomaly causes a ring around or otherwise compresses the esophagus or trachea. Anomalies associated with symptoms include double aortic arch, origin of the right subclavian artery distal to the left subclavian artery, and right-sided aortic arch with an aberrant left subclavian artery. A Kommerell’s diverticulum is an anatomic remnant of a right aortic arch. Most congenital anomalies of the aorta do not cause symptoms and are detected during catheter-based procedures. The diagnosis of suspected congenital anomalies of the aorta typically is confirmed by computed tomographic (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) angiography. Surgery is used to treat symptomatic anomalies.


An aneurysm is defined as a pathologic dilation of a segment of a blood vessel. A true aneurysm involves all three layers of the vessel wall and is distinguished from a pseudoaneurysm, in which the intimal and medial layers are disrupted and the dilated segment of the aorta is lined by adventitia only and, at times, by perivascular clot. Aneurysms also may be classified according to their gross appearance. A fusiform aneurysm affects the entire circumference of a segment of the vessel, resulting in a diffusely dilated artery. In contrast, a saccular aneurysm involves only a portion of the circumference, resulting in an outpouching of the vessel wall. Aortic aneurysms also are classified according to location, i.e., abdominal versus thoracic. Aneurysms of the descending thoracic aorta are usually contiguous with ...

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