An aortic dissection is a massive tear in the aorta, the primary artery that transports blood from the heart throughout the body. The rupture can kill you in a matter of minutes. Warning signs are often misdiagnosed or missed altogether.
Amy Yasbek, actress and widow of actor John Ritter, shares her family’s heartbreak surrounding her husband's sudden and tragic death from a dissected aorta.
The day he died, 54-year-old actor had been complaining of chest pains, and was rushed to the hospital. He died that night, surrounded by family and friends. The cause of death was later determined to be an aortic dissection.
“He was being treated for a heart attack the whole time he was in the hospital,” Amy says. “[Aortic dissection] wasn’t on the radar of the doctors that night. I had never heard of it, and obviously John never got a chance to learn about it, and our family has learned about it the hard way.”
E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork describes how an aortic dissection occurs, noting that those affected by the condition have an 80 percent mortality rate, because the tear can happen suddenly and without warning. “A lot of times, if people come to the E.R., it may be a ripping, tearing sensation in the chest that radiates towards your back,” he says.
Dr. Dianna Milewicz, a leading specialist in aortic dissections and aneurysms at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Texas, says that the most obvious warning sign of an aortic dissection is the enlargement of the aorta. “Unfortunately, people don’t feel the aorta getting bigger, and so you really need to go to [CT-scan] imaging to pick up that enlargement,” Dr. Milewicz explains.
Twenty percent of patients who have an aortic dissection will have a family member who may be at risk. Those with bicuspid valve condition, Marfan syndrome, Loeys-Dietz syndrome, Turner syndrome and vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are at higher risk of aortic dissection.
“Keep your blood pressure low,” Dr. Travis instructs. “It’s the number one thing you can do if you’re at risk. And you really have to talk with you physician about this, because prevention is absolutely key.”
Read the Ritter Rules to see if you or a loved one may be at risk.
Black and Blue All Over
A bruise occurs when the body is struck in some way. Muscles fibers and connective tissue beneath the skin are crushed or injured, and blood from the ruptured blood vessels leaks out under the skin. The blood gets trapped, forming a red or purplish mark that's tender to the touch, but the skin will return to normal after two to three weeks. As the bruise heals, it changes color, and these colors indicate the stage of healing.
|Evolution of a Bruise|
|Color||Day ||Healing Stage|
|Red||1||Day of the bruise.|
|Blue/purple||1 -2||The red blood cells break down and escape into the surrounding tissue, creating a darkened patch.|
|Green||6||As the tissues heal themselves, the greenish chemical biliverdin causes the area to turn a greenish hue.|
||The bruise has almost healed.|
|Normal||14||The skin will return to normal after two to three weeks.|