Aortic dissection

An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. Blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate (dissect). If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection is often fatal.

Aortic dissection is relatively uncommon. The condition most frequently occurs in men in their 60s and 70s. Symptoms of aortic dissection may mimic those of other diseases, often leading to delays in diagnosis. However, when an aortic dissection is detected early and treated promptly, the chance of survival greatly improves.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Aortic dissection symptoms may be similar to those of other heart problems, such as a heart attack. Typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Sudden severe chest or upper back pain, often described as a tearing, ripping or shearing sensation, that radiates to the neck or down the back
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness or paralysis of one side of your body, similar to those of a stroke
  • Weak pulse in one arm compared with the other

When to see a doctor

If you have signs or symptoms such as severe chest pain, fainting, sudden onset of shortness of breath or symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or emergency medical assistance. These signs and symptoms don't always indicate a serious problem, but it's best to get checked quickly. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.

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