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What Is a Tortuous Aorta?

A diagram of the structure of the aorta.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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A tortuous aorta is an aorta with anatomical abnormalities which cause it to be distorted in shape or path. Some people have a tortuous aorta and experience no ill health effects as a result of their slightly unusual anatomy, while others can experience complications. This condition can be diagnosed with the use of medical imaging studies which reveal the structure of the aorta and other blood vessels in the body. Such studies may be performed for unrelated reasons, or because a doctor suspects that a patient has an aorta abnormality.

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It carries freshly oxygenated blood out of the heart so that it can be distributed to the circulatory system. In most people, the aorta follows a relatively straight path, but in people with tortuous aorta, the vessel may be twisted or distorted. This can cause blockages in blood flow, leading to medical complications as a result of poor circulation.

Individuals with this condition can be at risk for high blood pressure caused by the interruption to their blood flow, and they can also experience atherosclerosis, in which the vessels are lined with a layer of plaque which impedes the movement of blood through the vessels. Tortuous aorta has also been implicated in some cases of pain caused by a displaced esophagus, as the twistings of the vessel can actually push the esophagus out of position.

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When imaging studies are used to identify a tortuous aorta, they can provide information about the severity of the abnormality and the condition of the vessel. If deposits are present or the vessel appears to be hardening, steps may need to be taken before the patient experiences the development of serious complications. In other instances, the abnormality may simply be something which the doctor would recommended keeping an eye on, with no action being taken unless a need for it became apparent.

Having a tortuous aorta is not necessarily a cause for concern, but patients should make sure that it is noted in their medical charts because it may become relevant during treatment. In addition, surgeons usually like to know ahead of time about unusual anatomical features in their patients, and forewarning about an abnormal aorta is a good idea. The surgeon or surgical team may want to take special steps to protect the health of the patient.

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Discuss this Article

anon302572
Post 9

My aunt died at 52 with this and now I have the same thing.

anon296368
Post 8

Just wondering since I was recently diagnosed with a "twisted aorta" at age 58 (female). I was hearing that it can be hereditary. Is a "twisted aorta" nothing to worry about? Wound up in the ER that day due to a gastric flu virus that increase my BP, even after taking my meds that am. Felt pretty awful and couldn't distinguish the difference. Thanks!

anon277615
Post 7

I had a chest e-ray and it showed I have a thoracic aorta slightly tortous. Is this bad?

anon189042
Post 6

I had X-rays and the radiologist suggested a possible abdominal aneurysm and possible hernia on the diaphragm. He was pretty smart from just an X-ray. He suggested a CT scan to look at these. The CT scan's conclusion? Who can understand all the terminology? It is now believed I may have a twisted aorta.

I do not care what it is at this point. I just cannot stand the pain anymore. It is in my chest, through my back and into my shoulders. Yes, we did do all the heart studies as this is what my PCM was worried about. We will see see the endo dude today and hope he gets down my throat soon.

pajesseson
Post 5

my xray taken after a car accident showed "tortuous aorta. there is superimposed densities along the right heart border, which could represent left atrial enlargement."

Any idea what this may mean? I just read it and have no idea.

bjim42
Post 4

I was diagnosed with an "unusually" tortuous aorta when I was 40 years old.

I also have a mild Mitral Valve Prolapse which causes palpitations which cause me to cough and

stop until it passes.

I am "used" to them, but I was more worried about the possibility of hardening or plaque in the aorta.

Otherwise my health is ok and I am 58 now.

closerfan12
Post 3

@EarlyForest -- Sometimes tortuous aortas can indirectly cause abdominal aortic aneurysms, like pharmchick78 was talking about.

Since a tortuous aorta is abnormal, sometimes the wall of the aorta can be weaker, leading to an aortic aneurysm, or, worst case scenario, an aortic aneurysm rupture.

Luckily, most people find out in a much easier way, usually by chance on an MRI or other unrelated test.

EarlyForest
Post 2

Wow -- that sounds really scary, particularly if you can live with one and not know it for so long!

What would be some situations where you might accidentally find out you had one?

pharmchick78
Post 1

A tortuous aorta can sometimes be confused with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, so doctors should be particularly wary when a patient presents with abdominal aortic aneurysm symptoms.

The two may be difficult to distinguish even in imaging studies, however, the borders of a tortuous aorta are usually very clearly distinguished.

By being aware of this, both doctors and surgeons can avoid potentially deadly abdominal aortic aneurysm complications.

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