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Aortic dissection occurs when the inner layer of the aorta is torn. The blood which enters the tear causes the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate. This occurs in a weakened area of the aortic wall and is sometimes caused by chronic high blood pressure. Other causes may include atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries.
Symptoms include severe chest or upper back pain. This may feel like a tearing sensation. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath and partial paralysis.