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Dangerous Aortic Ruptures Often Misdiagnosed

One of these events killed actor John Ritter in 2003

MONDAY, July 11, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- About 15,000 Americans die each year from aortic disease, when an aneurysm or tear in the aorta causes sudden death. The condition -- which killed actor John Ritter in 2003 -- is tricky to diagnose, a new study finds.

Compared with events such as heart attack or stroke, "the difficulty [with aortic disease] is that it is an infrequent disease, it's not a common problem," lead researcher Dr. Tomas Martin, a University of Florida associate professor of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, said in a prepared statement.

In the study, surgeons at Gainesville who specialize in aortic disease analyzed the medical charts of 100 patients with suspected aortic ailments who transferred to the university's medical center. The surgeons discovered that about 25 percent of the patients had initially been misdiagnosed, resulting in delayed treatment for some, and unnecessary surgery for others.

The results also suggest that many doctors who do not routinely treat aortic disease have difficulty distinguishing between the two most common culprits -- aortic dissection and aortic aneurysm. A dissection is a sudden tear in the arterial wall, while an aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta that can rupture.

A variance in diagnosis can mean the difference between emergency surgery and medical treatment, noted study author Dr. Thomas Beaver, assistant professor of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery.

"When you start talking about doing major thoracic aortic surgery on somebody, you really want to be sure what you're doing and where it started. For people who aren't familiar with it, it can be more challenging. There are subtle nuances," Beaver said in a prepared statement.

More continuing education for practicing physicians and increased education in medical schools could improve doctors' ability to diagnose aortic disease, Beaver and his colleagues said.

The study appears in the current issue of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

More information

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has more about aortic aneurysms.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, June, 2005
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