An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which a tear develops in the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart. Blood surges through this tear into the middle layer of the aorta, causing the inner and middle layers to separate (dissect). If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection is usually fatal.
If you think aortic dissection is the cause of your chest pain, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. 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
Loss of consciousness (fainting)
Shortness of breath
Sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness, or paralysis of one side of your body, such as having a stroke
Weak pulse in one arm compared with the other
If you or someone else may be having an aortic dissection:
Call for emergent medical assistance. Don’t “tough out” the symptoms of an aortic dissection for more than five minutes. If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, have someone, such as a neighbor or friend, drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options. Driving yourself puts you and others at risk if your condition suddenly worsens.
Begin CPR on the person having such if directed. If help from an emergent medical specialist is unavailable, begin CPR. If you don’t know CPR, begin pushing hard and fast on the person’s chest over the heart — about 100 compressions a minute.