Quick Facts:

  • The aorta is the main blood vessel carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
  • An aortic aneurysm is a widening, bulge, or ballooning of a portion of the aorta.
  • An aortic dissection is a tear between the layers of the aorta, which can cause an aneurysm or rupture.
  • Approximately 10,000 people experience aortic dissections annually.
  • Fast, accurate diagnosis of dissection is imperative: 50% of patients with undiagnosed aortic dissection die within 48 hours, a death rate of approximately 1% per hour.

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Signs/Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of an aneurysm?

Aneurysms typically do not have any symptoms. Most affected individuals do not know they have an aneurysm unless they have medical imaging studies of their aorta looking for the aneurysms or they undergo an x‐ray for some unrelated condition (such as a cough) and are found to have an enlarged aortic shadow.

What are the symptoms of an acute aortic dissection?

Severe pain is the #1 symptom of an acute aortic dissection. Seek immediate emergency medical care for a sudden onset of severe pain in the chest, stomach, back, or neck. The pain is likely to be sharp, tearing, ripping, and may move or migrate to different locations. Some people report feeling that something is very wrong.

Aortic dissection can mimic heart attack. Heart attacks are far more common than aortic dissection, but if a heart attack or other diagnosis is not clearly and quickly established, then aortic dissection should be quickly considered and ruled out. Heart attack pain typically comes on over a few minutes. Dissection pain is characterized by extremely sudden onset. It is especially important if a patient has a family history of thoracic aortic aneurysm/dissection or features of a genetic syndrome that predisposes the patient to an aortic aneurysm or dissection.

What are Ritter rules?

Ritter Rules are life‐saving reminders to recognize, treat, and prevent thoracic aortic dissection. Named for actor John Ritter, who died of a thoracic aortic dissection, Ritter Rules combine knowledge with action. Know the urgency, symptoms, who is most at‐risk and which imaging tests are required to diagnose this medical emergency.