Heart Attack Symptoms Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection symptoms are present when blood breaks through the lining of the heart’s largest artery, the aorta. This type of condition is extremely serious, if not life-threatening. Symptoms often occur suddenly and grow more severe in a short period of time.

An aortic dissection can appear as a tear along any portion of the aorta as the result of genetic conditions or through changes in blood pressure. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Aortic Dissection Causes

High blood pressure is the leading cause of aortic dissection. Genetic conditions involving connective tissue disorders also provide the potential for aortic involvement.

Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is another factor that can contribute to aortic dissection, as is chest trauma, including trauma caused by vehicular accidents and surgery.

How Aortic Dissection Occurs

The aorta is the largest artery that enters and exits the heart. It acts as the main distribution channel for carrying blood throughout the body.

The aortic wall consists of three layers:

  • inner
  • middle
  • outer.

When the inner wall develops a weakness or tear, blood finds a new channel in the middle layer. This new pocket will allow for some of the blood to pool, while the rest will continue to surge through the middle layer. While it sometimes resolves on its own, more frequently the tear will require emergency treatment.

In the majority of cases, the newly formed channel lies in the ascending aorta. This area is above the left ventricle, one of the lower chambers of the heart, and is subjected to great force. This type of aortic dissection typically requires surgical intervention, catheterization or treatment with medications.

Far fewer cases arise from a Type B aortic dissection, which occurs in the descending aorta. Surgical remedies for this condition are risky, as this area is further away from the heart, often reaching into the abdominal aorta. A Type B event often responds to medications and close monitoring, although severe cases require surgery. Type B aortic dissections are considered less dangerous than the more common Type A dissection.

Aortic Dissection and Heart Attack

Aortic dissection can sometimes prevent blood flow to other vital organs and can also lead to stroke or heart attack.

While aortic dissection symptoms often mimic those of a heart attack, it is important to know the differences between the two condition’s symtpoms. While taking aspirin to thin the blood is commonly recommended for a heart attack, this can cause excessive thinning and even death in the case of aortic dissection.

Diagnosing the type of aortic dissection is equally critical, as this will determine whether to medicate or to provide surgical intervention. In some cases, blood enters the chest, or pericardial, cavity. This is a life-threatening event, which causes loss of blood in the heart muscle. In both Type A and Type B aortic dissection, death can result in as little as a few hours without treatment. Generally, three-quarters of untreated patients will die within 14 days.

Symptoms of Aortic Dissection

Like other conditions that affect the heart, aortic dissection symptoms may create confusion. Many of the same sensations are potentially signs of a heart attack, which makes a diagnosis difficult without additional testing. Specialized diagnostics can often render a faster course of treatment, however. Often, the treating physician will take a blood pressure reading in both arms. A difference may indicate the presence of an aortic dissection.

The most common symptoms include:

  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • fainting
  • nausea
  • numbness
  • palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
  • radiating pain
  • shortness of breath
  • skin pallor
  • sweating
  • tingling sensations
  • vomiting.

Unique Aortic Dissection Symptoms

While an aortic dissection may be the result of high blood pressure or hardening of the arteries, many symptoms are different from those of a heart attack. Unique aortic dissection symptoms include:

  • bulging veins in the neck
  • chest pain that travels in a specific path, following the coursing of blood in the middle aortal lining
  • diminished mental capabilities or confusion
  • dry mouth and feeling of thirst
  • general weakness, with loss of muscle control in legs and arms
  • hoarseness
  • pain in the back, often localized to the area between the shoulder blades
  • paralysis, especially of lower extremities
  • stomach pain and extreme discomfort, often when a Type B aortic dissection extends into the abdominal aorta
  • swallowing difficulties.

An acute aortic dissection occurrence typically produces sudden onset symptoms. They are intense in nature. Some individuals describe the pain as a tearing sensation in the chest. In other instances, onset is gradual. Rarely, no symptoms are present, but some state that they experience an overpowering sensation of impending doom. Men experience this condition more often, and symptoms can differ greatly between males and females.

Surgery for aortic dissection may involve removal of the afflicted section and replacement with an artificial graft.


Humc.com (2006). Aortic Dissection. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the Hackensack Medical Center Web site: http://www.humc.com/library/.

Udesky, Laurie (2004-2007). Ills and Conditions. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the Caremark, Inc. Web site: http://healthresources.caremark.com/topic/aorticdissection.

UMM.edu (2007). Aortic Dissection. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the University of Maryland Medical Center Web site: http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000181sym.htm.