Health: An Uncommon Death

What to know about the vascular condition that killed John Ritter

Sudden death is always shocking, but there was something particularly unsettling about the way actor John Ritter died last week. He suffered what is known as an aortic dissection, an uncommon condition in which the major artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body basically tears itself apart. More precisely, blood, which is propelled by the beating heart, gets between layers of the arterial wall and pushes them apart, moving down the blood vessel like a run racing down a nylon stocking.

As you might expect, if the tear occurs close to the heart, death...

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