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.
It has been difficult to establish the incidence of aortic dissection because many cases are only diagnosed after death (which may have been attributed to another cause), and is often initially misdiagnosed. It is estimated that aortic dissection affects 2–3.5 people out of every 100,000 every year. Studies suggest that the incidence of aortic dissection may be rising. Men are more commonly affected than women: 65% of all people with aortic dissection are male.