What happens when medics miss a serious heart complaint?

7 September 2021

An aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition, requiring early diagnosis and treatment. Sadly, classic symptoms are often misdiagnosed or dismissed, which quickly lead to the patient’s death. We have experience of successfully investigating claims of this nature.

What is an aortic dissection?
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body which carries blood from the heart, descending through the chest and abdomen. An aortic dissection occurs when the inner layer of the aorta tears. Blood then surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate (dissect).

What are the symptoms?
An aortic dissection typically causes a sudden onset of pain across the chest, often felt in the back or between the shoulder blades. It can also include pain in the jaw, face, abdomen or lower extremities and cause fainting, shortness of breath and make the individual feel cold, clammy and sweaty. Sometimes these symptoms are put down to something else, for example indigestion and are not properly investigated.

What causes an aortic dissection?
Certain conditions can make a tear in the wall of the aorta more likely, including unmanaged high blood pressure over a long period of time.

How is an aortic dissection diagnosed and treated?
Investigations to diagnose an aortic dissection may include a blood test, electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, chest X-ray, CT or MRI scan. Treatment involves emergency surgery to repair the damaged aorta.

If aortic dissections are not diagnosed and treated quickly, they are often fatal. We have experience of bringing claims on behalf of families where a death has occurred following the failure to diagnose an aortic dissection in time.

Our experience
Our team have experience of dealing with aortic dissection cases. Recently, we concluded a claim for the widow of a gentleman who lost his life after those caring for him failed to diagnose and treat an aortic dissection. He left behind two children and the family had many plans for their future. The claim involved a complicated damages calculation to reflect the family set up and provide for his children and widow in the future.

Our factsheet about bringing a claim after someone has died explains more.

If you have lost someone and are concerned that negligent medical treatment may have led to their death, please contact us on 0207 814 1200 or by email claims@kingsleynapley.co.uk to discuss how we can help.


If you would like any further information or advice about the topic discussed in this blog, please contact Kirsty Allen or our Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team.



Kirsty Allen has a varied caseload of medical negligence and personal injury matters. Her medical negligence work includes child cerebral palsy and adult brain injury cases, as well as fatal claims (including inquests), loss of sight cases, as well as failure to diagnose cancer and gynaecological claims.

Lydia Holland is a paralegal in our medical negligence and personal injury team. 


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