Keywords: aortic dissection, aortic aneurysm, cardiac arrest, ultrasound (PubMed Search)
Death from ruptured aortic aneurysms and thoracic aortic dissection has a few key features that often help in distinguishing these entities from other causes of rapid decompensation and sudden death:
1. These aortic disasters have a tendency to present with hypotension but without necessarily any specific complaints of pain (in contrast to common teaching).
2. These aortic disasters tend usually to produce PEA as the initial arrest rhythm.
3. These aortic disasters are often diagnosable on bedside ultrasound (AAA seen when scanning the abdomen; dissections frequently produce pericardial tamponade as they dissect backwards into the pericardial sack).
ALWAYS take a look at a patient's aorta and pericardium with the ultrasound when that patient presents in extremis or in cardiac arrest. The results can help make some critical diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.
[recent article related to this topic: Pierce LC, Courtney DM. Clinical characteristics of aortic aneurysm and dissection as a cause of sudden death in outpatients. Am J Emerg Med 2008;26:1042-1046.]