Angiography has been considered the gold standard for the diagnosis of acute dissection of the ascending aorta, but it may increase mortality by imposing an unnecessary delay before surgical repair. In addition, coronary angiography has often been considered essential as well. From 1988 to 1993, 37 patients (median age 61 years, 30 men and 7 women) had acute dissection of the ascending aorta. All of the initial 15 patients (group I) had angiography, even through the diagnosis of aortic dissection had already been made noninvasively in 14; six (40%) of 15 died, three of aortic rupture and none of complications of coronary artery disease. Among the next 22 patients (group II), 21 had a noninvasive diagnosis of acute dissection of the ascending aorta (eight by echocardiography; 13 by computed tomography), and 19 (86%) were operated on without angiography; two died (9%, p = 0.03 versus group I) and neither death was due to aortic rupture or coronary artery disease. Overall, either root or selective coronary angiography was attempted in 18 of 37 patients, but it documented coronary artery disease in only two patients (11%). Coronary artery disease was found in four other patents at autopsy; three of them, including two that died of aortic rupture, had angiography that failed to reveal the coronary artery disease. Noninvasive diagnosis of acute dissection of the ascending aorta is reliable and avoids the risks and delays inherent in invasive angiography. Rapid noninvasive diagnosis of aortic dissection and avoidance of routine angiography appear to improve survival by expediting surgical intervention and thus decreasing the risk of aortic rupture.