Innovation in Complex Aortic Care

Dr. Joseph Bavaria, vice-chair of cardiothoracic surgery, and Dr. Ron Fairman, chief of vascular surgery, discuss how innovation in the field and within the Penn Medicine organization has helped improve and evolve patient care for complex aortic disease.

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Treating Complex Aortic Disease

Penn Medicine is dedicated to removing the "un" from "unavoidable, unpredictable, and untreatable" when it comes to disorders of the thoracic and abdominal aorta. The aorta is the largest artery in the body, stretching from the heart through the chest to the abdomen, and it carries oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts of the body. The thoracic aorta is the section of the aorta located in the thorax, the middle section of your body.

What are the different types of aortic disease?

Disease and disorders that affect the thoracic aorta include:

  • Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm: A weakening in the upper part of the aorta that causes an increased risk of rupture and bleeding. Depending on where it’s located, thoracic aortic aneurysms can involve the aortic root, ascending aorta, aortic arch or descending aorta.
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Similar to the aortic aneurysm, this weakening of the aorta is found in the abdomen and is often caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque within your arteries.
  • Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm: This type of aneurysm extends from the chest to the abdomen.
  • Aortic Dissection: The inner layer of the aorta can tear, causing a dissection, and creating a serious condition that requires immediate attention. Dissections are classified as “Type A” or “Type B” depending on the location of the tear.
  • Congenital conditions, such as Marfan syndrome, coarctation or bicuspid aortic valve disease.

A number of risk factors contribute to the likelihood of developing an aortic aneurysm. These risk factors include smoking, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and family history. Symptoms include pain in the abdomen or side of the abdomen and back pain, though you might not experience any symptoms related to an aortic aneurysm at all.

Every case is different and while some aneurysms are small and grow slowly, some are aggressive. It is important, however, to seek medical care if you feel sudden pain in the abdomen or back, because aortic dissection or aneurysm rupture are serious conditions that can be life-threatening. Identifying and treating aneurysms early is vital to avoid complications.

How we treat complex aortic disease

At Penn, our Complex Aortic Surgery Program is a team effort between the cardiac surgery and vascular surgery program. We work closely together to develop a treatment plan depending on location and severity of the issue. Our specialists:

  • Help you avoid surgery through early detection of potential problems
  • Identify and manage genetic risk factors
  • Slow the progression of disease with rigorous medical management
  • Offer the latest and safest surgical procedures before an emergency occurs
  • Bring together the most capable and experienced rapid response teams in the region to treat patients in critical condition
  • Aggressively prevent complications with stringent surgical and intensive care protocols
  • Provide lifelong monitoring by partnering with your cardiologist or primary care physician

For many people with aortic disease, surgery ultimately becomes necessary. Penn surgical teams have more experience with these technically demanding procedures than any other center in the area. Whether your condition is simple or complex, our team is here to provide options In fact, Penn is nationally known for successfully performing complex interventions on very high risk patients.

Why our program is different

At Penn, we offer a range of treatment options that will help you get back to living a full life. Our complex aortic program was founded in 1993, and we continue to be the most active program in the Philadelphia region, seeing more patients than any other area hospital. We are proud of the recognition we receive nationally and internationally for our excellent patient outcomes, and many of the techniques developed here to minimize the risk of surgical complications are now used in other centers around the world.

Our team is available around the clock to respond to emergencies, and we are dedicated to your care. As an academic medical center we also offer access to clinical trials and research being done nowhere else in the world.

In This Section

Treatments and Procedures

Penn is a top ranked institution in the field of complex aortic disease.  Learn about the innovative endovascular therapies and traditional open surgeries that are available here.

Treatment Team

Penn cardiovascular surgeons provide leading-edge therapies for complex aortic disease. 

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