Study objectives: Aortic dissection generally is an acute catastrophe. Rapid diagnosis is critical. We hypothesized that the quality of history taking contributes to the accuracy of diagnosis in patients with dissection.
Design: Retrospective chart review of 83 patients, whose diagnosis of aortic dissection was confirmed by autopsy, surgery, CT scan, echocardiogram, or angiogram. The quality of the initial history was reviewed using predetermined criteria. The physicians' initial clinical impressions were recorded.
Results: The examining physician correctly suspected aortic dissection after the initial clinical evaluation in 54 of 83 patients (65%). Only 33 of 78 patients with symptoms (42%) were asked about the quality, location, and onset of their pain, the three descriptors identified a priori as important. In 19 patients (24%), only zero or one descriptor was recorded. When all three questions were asked, dissection was suspected in 30 of 33 patients (91%); when zero, one, or two questions were asked, dissection was suspected in 22 of 45 patients (49%).
Conclusion: Despite important advances in diagnostic imaging, accurate diagnosis of aortic dissection requires an accurate history. In our series, the quality of initial history was associated with the accuracy of the initial clinical impression in patients with aortic dissection.