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Aortic Aneurysms and Dissections: Deadly, and Treatable

Aortic aneurysms and dissections are dangerous conditions which many doctors fail to appreciate and promptly treat. An estimated 15,000 people a year die of aortic aneurysms and dissections, the vast majority of whom should have gone on to live healthy happy lives if they had received prompt medical treatment.

Aortic Dissection Age Range

Because the average age of a person identified with acute aortic dissection is 63 – with many younger people suffering – failure of doctors to identify and appropriately treat a dissection can mean years less life for a loved one.

What Are Aortic Dissections Versus Aneurysms?

The aorta is the main vessel that receives oxygen-rich blood from the heart. All of the body’s blood supply comes through the aorta. An aortic dissection is a rip on the inside of the aorta.

An aortic aneurysm is a swelling of the aorta. Sometimes a dissection (or rip) can weaken the aorta so it can no longer handle the pressure of the blood the heart is pumping into it, and the aorta swells, causing an aneurysm. Sometimes a swelling of the aorta can weaken the walls of the vessel causing them to rip.

Aortic Dissection Symptoms

In approximately 95% of cases of acute dissection patients report pain; for most acute cases, the patient reports sudden pain in their chest and back as the aorta rips and stretches.

Aortic Dissection Diagnosis

Whatever the cause, well over 80% cause abnormal x-rays, with almost all showing up on CT scans. Despite the relative ease with which doctors can diagnose aortic dissections and aneurysms, doctors misdiagnosis an estimated 33% – often as back pain. Part of the problem is that patients can be young and otherwise healthy.

What Happens If an Aortic Dissection Isn’t Treated Quickly?

If an aortic dissection or aneurysm is not treated promptly, the aorta continues to weaken, and eventually bursts. When a person’s aorta bursts they die almost instantaneously. Some classes of people with aortic dissections and aneurysms have between a 1% and 2% chance of dying for every hour within the first 48 hours after they notice symptoms.

In other words, without prompt treatment, patients die quickly; if the doctor does not catch the disease quickly, there are often no second chances.

Aortic Dissection Treatment Prognosis

What makes these medical errors particularly sad is that even in significant cases requiring heart surgery, over two-thirds of patients live, with many classes of people having survival rates approaching 90%.

Frequently Asked Questions:

I have a family member who died of an aortic dissection or aneurysm, is litigation right for me?

Possibly. At Callaway and Wolf we believe that nobody who goes to the hospital after sudden back or chest pain should die of an untreated aortic dissection or aneurysm. Yet, many do, leaving behind loved ones who are justifiably outraged.

As medical malpractice litigators, we work hard to determine why a person was not treated, to get compensation for the families of untreated patients, and – by bringing these lawsuits – raise awareness among healthcare providers of the importance of correctly diagnosing this condition.

My doctor was slow in diagnosing my aortic dissection or aneurysm, but I am being treated, is litigation right for me?

Probably not. We understand that medicine is hard and even good doctors are slow to get their diagnosis correct. Fortunately, most of the treatments of aortic dissections and aneurysms are very effective. Because of the cost of bringing these cases we typically do not recommend litigation if a person is still receiving treatment.

Can any lawyer successfully prosecute aortic dissection or aneurysm cases?

Aortic dissection and aneurysm cases tend to be complicated and often involve surgeons, emergency and non-emergency doctors, nurses, radiologists, pathologists, and forensic economists. At Callaway and Wolf, we have working relationships with some of the most respected people in each of these fields and having done these cases we appreciate some of the subtleties which may not be readily apparent to attorneys who are unfamiliar with the medicine or litigation dynamics.

Do you take aortic dissection or aneurysm cases outside of the Bay Area?

Yes. We accept cases throughout California, and have handled cases in other states and outside the U.S., with the assistance of local counsel. Even if we cannot take your family’s case, we can likely recommend an attorney who can assist you.

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