Aortic dissection, a medical emergency, occurs when there is a tear in the inner layer of the
aorta. The aorta is the major blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Blood rushes into this tear causing the inner and middle layers to separate or “dissect”. When
blood also breaks through the outer aortic wall this is usually fatal.
Symptoms of aortic dissection may be similar to that of other heart problems. It may
cause sudden chest or upper back pain but may also cause other symptoms such as loss of
consciousness, shortness of breath, and symptoms of stroke. Men have aortic dissection more
frequently than women. The most common age is between 50 to 70 years old. If any of these
symptoms occur suddenly, one should seek urgent medical attention or call for emergency
The most important feature of preventing aortic dissection is control of high blood pressure at
an early age. High blood pressure is implicated in two-thirds of these cases. To reduce your risk
it is also important to stop smoking if you smoke. It is also recommended to follow a low salt
diet and exercise regularly. Certain congenital conditions and pre-existing aortic abnormalities
predispose to aortic dissection.
Dr. Steven Reisman, Director of the New York Cardiac Diagnostic Center, advises patients to be
aggressive about the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) and control of hypertension
along with smoking cessation for prevention.