Imaging Studies of the Aorta: Overview of the Aorta

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Imaging Studies of the Aorta: Overview of the Aorta


Guest: Dr. Joseph Schoepf - Radiology

Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry

Dr. Linda Austin: I’m Dr. Linda Austin. I’m interviewing Dr. Joseph Schoepf who is Associate Professor of Radiology and Internal Medicine and an expert in the area of imaging of the heart and vascular system. Dr. Schoepf, one of your areas of interest is in the imaging of diseases of the aorta. What is the aorta?

Dr. Joseph Schoepf: The aorta is the main vessel in the human body that carries the blood from the pumping heart throughout the body, all the way down to the legs. So, all the blood supply to the brain, arms, internal organs and legs depends on a functioning aorta.

Dr. Linda Austin: What are some common illnesses of the aorta that you look for when you’re looking at a study?

Dr. Joseph Schoepf: Like with all vessels in the human body, including the heart, the most common disease affecting the aorta is atherosclerotic disease, which is very likely to happen from a certain age on up. Almost everybody develops atherosclerotic changes in the aorta, so we’re not worried if we see a little calcium here and there. As I said, almost everybody has that. But there are certain disease entities that can affect the aorta that are more threatening and they can be related to atherosclerotic disease, as a matter of fact, most of the time they are. I’m referring to diseases of the aorta, such as aortic aneurysms which can form in patients who have atherosclerotic disease, typically those with long standing hypertension who have had high blood pressure for most of their life.

Dr. Linda Austin: Can you explain a little bit more what an aortic aneurysm is and why it’s of such grave concern?

Dr. Joseph Schoepf: An aneurysm is an area of widening of the aorta and it can affect, pretty much, all the portions of that vessel, the aortic root, which is close to the heart, the remainder of the thoracic, or chest, portion of the aorta, the abdominal portion, down in the belly. All of those areas can be affected by aneurysms, or dilations, of that vessel.

Dr. Linda Austin: So, then, if you see such a widening and it is of sufficient size and it looks like it’s increasing fast enough to be of concern, that patient, then, would go to surgery?

Dr. Joseph Schoepf: Exactly. The risk that aneurysms, or widenings of the aorta, have a sudden rupture, which, of course, is a very serious condition, depends on their growth rate. So, we would carefully monitor those patients for rapidly progressive disease, have them undergo repeat imaging studies, such as CT, or magnetic resonance studies of the aorta, say, each year, for example, just to make sure that it doesn’t rapidly progress in size.

Dr. Linda Austin: Dr. Schoepf, thank you very much.

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