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Diagnosing Aortic Disease

Thoracic aortic disease is discovered multiple ways. Sometimes there is pressure or pain in the chest or back, but most often there are no warning symptoms. A dilated aorta or aneurysm may be identified during testing for something else or as part of a routine physical.

The first step in developing a treatment strategy is to accurately diagnose the underlying condition. VCUMC specialists are expert in conducting and interpreting these tests.


Sound waves are used to produce pictures of the heart chambers, valves and aorta.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

Spiral CT scans are excellent options for determining the size of the aorta. They require an intravenous contrast agent, however, which may be problematic for patients with kidney problems.  CT scans require X-ray exposure.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An alternative to the CT scan. MRI shows blood flow, as well as details of the aorta and heart valves. No X-ray exposure is required, and the intravenous contrast has no adverse affect on the kidneys. This test is not used on patients with implanted pacemakers.

Additional testing may include nuclear medicine or carotid artery ultrasound to evaluate any pre-existing coronary artery problems.