Surgery a Lifesaver When Aortic Dissection Strikes

Cardiac condition that killed actor John Ritter mimics heart attack, experts say

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FRIDAY, July 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- About 90 percent of patients who survive emergency surgery for the most serious form of aortic dissection -- the rare but dangerous heart condition that killed actor John Ritter -- will still be alive three years later, new research shows.

Patients who do not have preexisting heart and blood vessel problems are even more likely to survive, according to a study led by specialists at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. The findings were published in a supplement to the journal Circulation.

Aortic dissection -- a tear in the largest blood vessel in the body -- strikes about 10,000 Americans a year. The condition is often linked to high blood pressure and genetic disorders. Symptoms of aortic dissection can mimic those of a heart attack, which means the condition is often not diagnosed or treated quickly. This contributes to a 30 percent in-hospital death rate, including a 25 percent risk of death during surgery.

For this study, researchers analyzed follow-up data from 303 patients, drawn from 21 medical centers in 11 countries. These patients were treated for the most serious form of aortic dissection, called Type A, which occurs in the upper part of the aorta near the heart.

The researchers said their findings showed that proper rapid diagnosis and successful surgery can save lives.

"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," study author Dr. Thomas Tsai, a cardiovascular research fellow, said in a prepared statement.

"Of course, those who do survive will have a diagnosis for life of aortic disease and will need medication and aggressive monitoring of their aorta," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about aortic dissection.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, July 10, 2006

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