The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It starts from the left ventricle of the heart, and extends down to the abdomen, where it branches off into smaller arteries. The aorta itself has two walls: an outer wall and an inner wall. An aortic dissection occurs when a tear in the inner wall of the aorta causes blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the vessel, forcing the layers apart.
The aorta has an outer and inner wall, which is kind of like the inner tube of a tire. If the inner wall develops a tear, blood then passes between the inner and outer walls of the aorta. Since the heart is a pump, the pressure of the blood drives against the two walls like a wedge and continues to slowly tear away between the inner and outer walls. The blood is in a false passage and has nowhere to go, so it accumulates until the pressure forces further dissection. If the dissection tears the aorta completely open, massive and rapid blood loss occurs, often leading to death.
The symptoms of aortic dissection include sharp, “tearing” pain that starts suddenly, sometimes extending through the chest and into the back and neck or jaw. There can also be other physical and neurological symptoms, such as fainting, lightheadedness, blurry vision, and numbness or tingling in the arms or legs. Sometimes it will cause nausea and vomiting.
Any time you have severe chest pain, you should consult immediately with a physician. Emergency room doctors are trained to diagnose medical problems, including aortic dissection. They should run a series of simple tests, including measuring your heart rate against the pulse felt in your extremities to check for adequate perfusion. A chest X-Ray can be taken to look for abnormalities. Because aortic dissections can be fatal if not treated on time, they are considered true medical emergencies. Responsible medical professionals will run additional tests and consult with appropriate specialists to make the diagnosis.
In some cases, however, physicians don’t follow the steps to make the diagnosis, and send patients home to face catastrophic consequences including wrongful death. Delays in treatment of even a few hours can drastically decrease a patient’s chances for survival. It is therefore necessary that doctors be aware of, and properly diagnose, aortic dissection.
If a patient presents with symptoms of aortic dissection and a health care professional fails to make the correct diagnosis, it may be considered medical malpractice. Contact Utah medical malpractice attorney Ryan Springer to discuss your legal rights. Ryan has a proven track record of fighting to hold negligent health care providers accountable for their medical errors.