Misdiagnosis of aortic dissection: A systematic review of the literature

Saul Lovatt, Chun Wai Wong, Konstantin Schwarz, Josip A Borovac, Ted Lo, Mark Gunning, Thanh Phan, Ashish Patwala, Diane Barker, Christian D Mallen, Chun Shing Kwok

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

23 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Aortic dissection is a rare but potentially catastrophic condition. Misdiagnosis of aortic dissection is not uncommon as symptoms can overlap with other diagnoses.

OBJECTIVE: We conducted a systematic review to better understand the factors contributing to incorrect diagnosis of this condition.

METHODS: We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE for studies that evaluated the misdiagnosis of aortic dissection. The rate of misdiagnosis was pooled and results were narratively synthesized.

RESULTS: A total of 12 studies with were included with 1663 patients. The overall rate of misdiagnosis of aortic dissection was 33.8%. The proportion of patients presenting with chest pain, back pain and syncope were 67.5%, 24.8% and 6.8% respectively. The proportion of patients with pre-existing hypertension was 55.4%, 30.5% were smokers while the proportion of patients with coronary artery disease, previous cardiovascular surgery or surgical trauma and Marfan syndrome was 14.7%, 5.8%, and 3.7%, respectively. Factors related to misdiagnosis included the presence of symptoms and features associated with other diseases (such as acute coronary syndrome, stroke and pulmonary embolism), the absence of typical features (such as widened mediastinum on chest X-ray) or concurrent conditions such congestive heart failure. Factors associated with more accurate diagnosis included more comprehensive history taking and increased use of imaging.

CONCLUSIONS: Misdiagnosis in patients with an eventual diagnosis of aortic dissection affects 1 in 3 patients. Clinicians should consider aortic dissection as differential diagnosis in patients with chest pain, back pain and syncope. Imaging should be used early to make the diagnosis when aortic dissection is suspected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-22
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Aneurysm, Dissecting/complications
  • Back Pain/etiology
  • Chest Pain/diagnosis
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Humans
  • Syncope/complications


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