Dear Ask The Doctor: I had an xray for lower back pain and the report mentioned that the aorta was calcified. Is this the aorta of the heart and why is it found on a xray of the lower back?
Dear Patient: An x-ray of the lumbar spine will highlight any structure at the level of the lumbar spine, with a calcium component, including bones, organs or blood vessels. The aorta is the main artery that leaves the heart carrying oxygenated blood to different parts of the body. The aorta leaves the heart and travels upwards in the ascending aorta then travels south following the aortic arch to become the descending aorta. When the aorta passes through the diaphragm it becomes the abdominal aorta, which supplies the stomach and intestines. It is this abdominal aorta that is viewed in a lumbar spine x-ray. Calcium can be deposited in arterial walls due to process of atherosclerosis and is often due to degenerative disease or the aging process. This is not uncommon. Sometimes calcium can be deposited in the arterial walls if there is a swelling or dilatation in the artery known as an aneurysm. If you are concerned, a simple ultrasound scan can measure the diameter of the abdominal aorta, to exclude an abdominal aortic aneurysm.