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 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. An aortic dissection is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. Therapy may include surgery or medications, depending on the area of the aorta involved.
Aortic dissection is estimated to occur at a rate of 3-4 cases per 100,000 persons per year and is associated with a high mortality. The true incidence of aortic dissection is difficult to determine, because of many not correctly diagnosed cases which escape notice. The prevalence of aortic dissection ranged from 0.2% to 0.8% in large series of autopsies (1-5,6,7). A minority of series of necropsies reported a prevalence of 0.1%.