Aortic Dissection is a serious condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the aorta, the major artery carrying blood out of the heart. As the tear extends along the wall of the aorta, blood can flow in between the layers of the blood vessel wall. This can lead to aortic rupture or decreased blood flow to the organs.
Aortic dissection most often happens because of a tear or damage to the inner wall of the aorta. This very often occurs in the chest part of the artery, but it may also occur in the abdominal aorta.
The exact cause is unknown, but more common risks include:
- Blunt trauma to the chest, such as hitting the steering wheel of a car during an accident
- High blood pressure
Aortic dissection occurs in about two out of every 10,000 people. It can affect anyone, but is most often seen in men ages 40 to 70.
In most cases, the symptoms begin suddenly, and include severe chest pain. The pain may feel like a heart attack. The pain:
- Can be sharp, stabbing, tearing or ripping.
- Is felt below the chest bone and then moves under the shoulder blades or to the back.
- Can move to the shoulder, neck, arm, jaw, abdomen or hips.
- Changes position, often moving to the arms and legs as the aortic dissection gets worse.
Symptoms are caused by a decrease of blood flowing to the rest of the body, and can include:
- Anxiety and a feeling of doom
- Fainting or dizziness
- Heavy sweating (clammy skin)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale skin
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Shortness of breath and trouble breathing when lying flat