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Aortic Dissection - A Deadly Condition

Actor John Ritter died of a lethal condition called aortic dissection (a tear in the largest blood vessel in the body) around three years ago//. His death brought the focus on this deadly disease, which is associated with high blood pressure and genetic disorders.

Now, researchers have published some rare good news about aortic dissection, showing that 90 percent of patients who survive emergency surgery and hospitalization for its most serious form will still be alive three years later. Those without pre-existing heart and blood vessel problems were even more likely to survive. The findings are published in a supplement to the journal Circulation.

The study, performed by an international team led by specialists at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, involved data from 303 patients. All were treated in the late 1990s and early 2000s for the most serious form of aortic dissection, called Type A, which occurs in the upper part of the aorta near the heart.

It's a unique study looking at survival among Type A aortic dissection patients who live through their initial crisis. The authors say the results offer hope that with proper rapid diagnosis and successful surgery, more patients can survive.

However, because aortic dissection is rare and its symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack, it is often not diagnosed or treated quickly -- contributing to a 30 percent in-hospital death rate that includes a 25 percent risk of death during surgery. But less is known about the fate of those who survive long enough to leave the hospital.

"Clearly, this is one of those diseases where if you catch it early you can save lives in the hospital, and with successful surgery your outlook after discharge can look quite good," says lead author Thomas Tsai, M.D., a cardiovascular research fellow at the U-M Medical School. "Of course, those who do survive will have a diagnosis for life of aortic disease, and will need medi
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