There are many components of a vascular health system, including the aorta. When describing what the aorta is, how it functions, and why it’s essential to the vascular system, we should take a step back and look at the system as a whole.
As you probably know, blood travels through our bodies through veins and arteries. Veins bring the blood to the heart (picking up oxygen along the way), and arteries take blood away from the heart (delivery oxygen to the rest of the body along the way). The aorta is the largest part of the artery system, and all arteries branch off from here. Think of it as a tube-like structure that runs right down the middle of your body (though not in a straight path) with divisions.
Each of the divisions plays a key role in a functioning aorta and a healthy vascular system. The aortic valve connects the heart to the aorta and keeps blood from flowing backward after it’s left the heart. The ascending aorta rises upwards from the heart and is where the coronary arteries branch off from and supply the heart with blood. The aorta then curves over the heart, called the aortic arch, and continues downward, called the descending aorta. After the aorta crosses the diaphragm, it becomes the abdominal aorta.
Health conditions related to the aorta
Part of the reason why the aorta is so important is there are various aortic conditions that can cause health problems.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an enlargement or bulge in a weakened area of the aorta. If it remains undetected, a rupture can occur. AAA can be safely treated and cured with early diagnosis.
Other conditions include aortic insufficiency, when the aortic valve does not shut completely, aortic atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the wall of the aorta (cause of stroke), aortic dissection, aortic stenosis, and more.
What to watch out for
If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your doctor. Through tests and exams, he or she will be able to diagnose problems with the aorta. Symptoms include:
- Severe pain (unexplained) in the abdomen or lower back)
- A pulsing feeling in the abdomen
- Chest pain or upper back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sores on feet
- Leg paralysis
- Walking difficulties
High cholesterol and high blood pressure can damage the aorta, so monitoring those levels is crucial. To help maintain cholesterol and blood pressure, be sure to eat a healthy diet, avoid tobacco, and exercise regularly.
For more information on treating aortic conditions, visit our site.