Do You Know the Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm…and Does Your Doctor?

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Aortic aneurysm leading to dissection is always a medical emergency, and a failure by medical personnel to recognize the condition cost a Utah man his life.

On November 6, 2011, a 55-year old transit worker, Keith Wilcox, went to an urgent care facility complaining of chest and back pain. Diagnosed with constipation and discharged, Mr. Wilcox returned on November 15 with worsening symptoms. High blood pressure noted at the first visit was even higher on the second visit.  Mr. Wilcox was advised to reduce his intake of sodium and caffeine, and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.  Follow-up was scheduled in two months.

On November 19, 2011, Mr. Wilcox died suddenly at his residence.  An autopsy concluded Mr. Wilcox died of an aortic dissection, the source of the chest and back pain of which he complained in the last weeks of his life.

Misdiagnosed on two occasions, by two different physician’s assistants, Mr. Wilcox was not evaluated at any time for the cardiac symptoms of which he complained. Medical malpractice attorneys for the widow of Mr. Wilcox offered to settle the matter for $1 million, and were rebuffed by the healthcare organization.  At trial in 2017, a jury awarded the family $2.9 million for the poor care provided to Mr. Wilcox.

What is Aortic Dissection and Why it is Important to Know?

An aortic dissection is a type of aneurysm that occurs along the aorta, the larger artery that conveys blood from the heart to the chest and into your torso.

An aneurysm is a weakening in the wall of a blood vessel.  The hallmark of an aneurysm is a ballooning of the vessel at its weakened point.  An aneurysm can occur in vessels throughout the body, and the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm resemble those of a heart attack, including:

  • Sudden severe pain in the chest, back, or abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath,
  • Sudden difficulty speaking clearly and weakness on one side of the body—similar to a stroke
  • Dizziness, clammy skin, and nausea
  • Deep throbbing pain in the lower back or legs

Aneurysms may silently develop over time without symptoms, or occur suddenly.  When an aneurysm in the aorta worsens, it may cause a dissection, which is the separation of the middle and outer layers of the aorta.  Blood rushes into the separation and the artery may rupture, causing severe internal bleeding.  While an aneurysm may be monitored pending treatment, dissection and rupture require immediate surgery.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aortic aneurysm was the primary cause of death for 9,863 people in 2014, and a contributing cause of death for more than 17,000 people in 2009. Risk factors for aortic aneurysm include the following:

  • Gender: About two-thirds of those who suffer aortic dissection are male.  Pregnancy can increase the risk of aortic aneurysm in women.
  • Age: Men from approximately age 60 onward have a greater risk of dissection than younger men.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a leading culprit in damage to arteries and smaller blood vessels that can lead to an aneurysm and dissection.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking, being overweight, using cocaine, or intense weightlifting can contribute to aneurysm, dissection, or rupture.  An ultrasound to scan for aortic aneurysm is recommended for men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have ever smoked.

It is likely Mr. Wilcox would still be alive if he had been properly diagnosed.  While money cannot replace or restore a life, the compensation achieved for his family will ease their lives going forward without him.

If you suffer chest pain or other cardiac symptoms, call 911 and get emergency medical care. Be sure to ask about cardiac evaluation if a healthcare provider ignores your chest pain.  When you receive poor advice, treatment, or care for a serious medical matter, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.

Attorneys in Washington D.C. and Maryland Aggressively Pursue Your Right to Compensation After Receiving Negligent Care

If you or a family member was seriously injured due to negligent medical care, our law firm can help.  The attorneys at Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A. are a trusted resource for injured patients throughout Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.  Contact us or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your injury.