Ripping, Stabbing Chest Pain that Suddenly Occurs: Get to ER, Stat

A stabbing, severe kind of chest pain that suddenly comes on isn’t necessarily caused by a heart attack.

But this doesn’t mean it can’t be life threatening. It very well CAN be.

Think Aortic Dissection

“Stabbing or ripping chest pain always raises the specter of what we call ‘aortic dissection,’ says Dr. John A. Elefteriades, MD, William W.L. Glenn Professor of Surgery, and Director, Aortic Institute at Yale-New Haven, New Haven, CT.

Schematic of an aortic dissection. Shutterstock/sciencepics

“Aortic dissection means internal tearing of the aorta, separating the inner from the outer layers of the aorta,” continues Dr. Elefteriades.

“This is exactly a ripping apart of the layers of the aorta, just as the term implies. This is a very serious condition that usually requires an immediate operation.”

Aortic Dissection Cannot Resolve on Its Own

This situation never self-corrects. It only gets worse; the course of it will lead to death 100 percent of the time … unless it is promptly treated—and treatment is always surgery (which may be open heart or endovascular).

Taking ground-up aspirin or a nitroglycerin pill would be useless in the event of an aortic dissection.

So would chest compressions, because the blood that should be pumped to the body’s organs is spilling out of the aorta and filling up the chest cavity.

An aortic dissection results in massive internal bleeding. Some patients will die within minutes.

However, there are others who have had a delayed visit to the ER visit, not realizing how serious their situation was, and because the dissection was of a slower nature, they survived despite delaying the ER visit by up to a few days.

But don’t assume that can be you, even if the pain kind of feels like it has subsided a bit. Don’t take any chances. Just get to the emergency room.

A “slower” dissection will ultimately lead to death if it is not surgically repaired.

So if you or someone you know has been complaining of agonizing or ripping chest pain, don’t wait another second in getting to the ER.

Formerly the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale University and Yale New-Haven Hospital, Dr. Elefteriades is working on identifying the genetic mutations responsible for thoracic aortic aneurysms. He is the author of over 400 scientific publications on a wide range of cardiac and thoracic topics.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



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