Thoracic aortic disease is an important contributor to arterial disease and therefore, mortality in the UK. It has close associations with hypertension, atherosclerosis and genetic conditions such as Marfan syndrome. The cardiovascular consequences of acute aortic dissection or the rupture of a thoracic aneurysm are life threatening with a 1% increase in mortality per hour with a type A aortic dissection and a high 30-day mortality rate. The clinical diagnosis can be difficult for the general physician as the symptoms can mimic more common conditions such as acute coronary syndrome, pulmonary embolism or acute abdomen. The investigations that carry the highest sensitivity and specificity, CT, transoesophageal echocardiography and MRI are not usually first-line investigations in most patients so a high index of clinical suspicion is key. The management of acute aortic syndromes involves good initial resuscitation and early discussion with the cardiothoracic surgeons. Given the serious consequences of acute aortic syndromes, it is important for all military doctors to be aware of these presentations and to appreciate the difficulties that can be encountered when trying to accurately diagnose them. Routine medicals, particularly entrance medicals, present a unique clinical opportunity to recognise the clinical features that would warrant further investigation and specialist advice.
- OCCUPATIONAL & INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE
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