Signs and Symptoms of Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection often causes a sudden, sharp, severe pain that feels like tearing, ripping, or stabbing. The location of the pain usually depends on where the dissection occurs and how it affects nearby organs. In most cases, pain starts in the chest, neck, or upper back, and spreads to the arms, legs, shoulders, jaw, abdomen, or hips as the dissection worsens. The patient may lose feeling in different parts of the body or may not be able to move.

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Confusion, changes in cognitive abilities, increased anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry skin, dry mouth, thirst
  • Excessive sweating, clammy skin, pallor
  • Fainting, dizziness, light-headedness
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Stomach upset and vomiting

Complications of Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection causes serious complications. Because blood flow is diverted or blocked, some areas of the body (e.g., kidneys, brain, limbs, abdomen) do not receive the oxygen and nutrients they need. When this occurs, body tissues can be damaged, increasing the risk for blood clot formation, kidney failure, stroke, coma, or paralysis.

Aortic dissection affects blood flow to the heart and can cause heart attack. If the aorta ruptures (breaks apart) into an open body cavity, internal bleeding can be fatal. A ruptured aorta causes death in more than 50 percent of all cases.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 12 Apr 2008

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015