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Acute aortic dissection (AAD) is a time sensitive, difficult to diagnose, aortic emergency. We sought to explore the quality of history taking in AAD and assess its impact on misdiagnosis.
We studied a retrospective cohort of patients >18 years old who presented to two tertiary care emergency departments from January 1st 2004 – December 31st 2012 and were diagnosed with an acute aortic dissection (AAD) on CT, MRI or TEE. Trained reviewers’ extracted data using a standardized data collection form. The definitions of 5 pain characteristics – character, onset, duration, quality, and radiation were defined a priori.
Data were collected for 194 cases of acute aortic dissection with a mean age of 65(SD 14.1) and 66.7% male, 34(17.6%) missed on initial presentation. Only 20(14.8%) patients were asked all 5 questions. The most common initial incorrect diagnosis were acute coronary syndrome (16, 47%), pulmonary embolism (5, 14.7%) and stroke (4, 11.7%). If <2 questions were asked 1 in 5 cases were missed, 4 times greater than if >2 were asked (P < 0.01).
Clinicians should ask and document the character, onset, duration, radiation and severity of pain in any patient presenting with chest, abdominal or flank pain. A focused history still remains the keystone to reducing misdiagnosis.
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