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Emerg Med J. 2007 December; 24(12): 846–847.
PMCID: PMC2658359

Best Evidence Topic Reports

Detection of acute thoracic aortic dissection with D‐dimer

Report by Chad VanderLinden, Senior Resident

Checked by Dr Jeffrey Jones and Dr Michael Brown, Research Director and Director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program, respectively

Grand Rapids MERC/Michigan State University, Michigan, USA


A short cut review was carried out to establish whether a raised D‐dimer could be used to identify patients with an acute thoracic aortic dissection. Seven papers were found addressing the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results and study weaknesses of these papers are presented in table 11.. The clinical bottom line is that a D‐dimer value <500 ng/ml makes the diagnosis unlikely but there is still the possibility of a thrombosed false lumen.

Table thumbnail
Table 1

Three part question

In [emergency department patients with chest pain] can [D‐Dimer] [detect acute thoracic aortic dissection]?

Clinical scenario

A 71‐year‐old woman with a history of hypertension presents to the emergency department with a sudden onset of chest pain radiating to her back. Her ECG shows ischaemic changes and cardiac enzymes are pending. Chest x ray shows a normal appearing mediastinum but clinical suspicion for a thoracic aorta dissection remains. You wonder if a D‐dimer assay has enough negative predictive value to exclude an acute thoracic aortic dissection (ATAD) to allow you to quickly anticoagulate this patient without any further imaging study.

Search strategy

Medline 1950‐ August 2007 using the OVID interface, Cochrane Library (2007) [(exp Aneurysm, Dissecting/or Aneurysm/or OR (exp Aortic Aneurysm/or exp Aortic Aneurysm, Thoracic/or aortic] AND [(exp Fibrin Fibrinogen Degradation Products/or fibrinogen degradation OR (d‐] LIMIT to human AND English.

Search outcome

Ninety‐five papers were found of which 88 were irrelevant or of insufficient quality, and seven were relevant and of sufficient quality for inclusion (table 11).


D‐dimers are specific cross‐linked fibrin derivatives that are the product of fibrinolytic degradation. They are considered the best available marker of coagulation activity and are well studied as a marker in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE). D‐dimer would theoretically be elevated in thoracic aorta dissection due to exposure of the false lumen. Chronic thoracic aorta dissection would theoretically not produce significant elevation in D‐dimer secondary to endothelialisation of the false lumen. The clinical usefulness of a screening laboratory test for ATAD has several advantages. First, it would reduce the number of invasive diagnostic procedures as well as contrast induced nephropathy. Second, the rapid availability of the result would significantly reduce the time necessary to raise suspicion of ATAD. Third, a positive result could prevent patients from getting thrombolytic therapy when the underlying aetiology of the patient's chest pain is ATAD. Finally, if the negative predictive value of D‐dimer is high enough to exclude ATAD in patients with chest pain, anticoagulation could be initiated sooner in chest pain patients because treating physicians would not have to worry as much about ATAD masquerading as an acute coronary syndrome.

Clinical bottom line

Preliminary studies using D‐dimer to exclude clinically suspected ATAD show promise. Clearly, the sensitivity of D‐dimer for ATAD falls when a thrombosed false lumen is present. Large prospective validation studies need to be done before D‐dimer can be used to dictate clinical decision making in emergency department patients suspected of having ATAD.


  • Perez A, Abbet P, Drescher M J. D-dimers in the emergency department evaluation of aortic dissection. Acad Emerg Med 2004;11:397-400. [PubMed]
  • Eggebrecht H, Naber C K, Bruch C. et al. Value of plasma fibrin D-dimers for detection of acute aortic dissection. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004;44:804-9. [PubMed]
  • Weber T, Hogler S, Auer J. et al. D-dimer in acute aortic dissection. Chest 2003;123:1375-8. [PubMed]
  • Akutsu K, Sato N, Yamamoto T. et al. A rapid bedside D-dimer assay for screening of clinically suspected acute aortic dissection. Circ J 2005;69:397-403. [PubMed]
  • Hazui H, Nishimoto M, Hoshiga M. et al. Young adult patients with short dissection length and thrombosed false lumen without ulcer-like projections are liable to have false-negative results of d-dimer testing for acute aortic dissection based on a study of 113 cases. Circ J 2006;70:1598-601. [PubMed]
  • Ohlmann P, Faure A, Morel O. et al. Diagnostic and prognostic value of circulating D-dimers in patients with acute aortic dissection. Crit Care Med 2006;34:1358-64. [PubMed]
  • Hazui H, Fukumoto H, Negoro N. et al. Simple and useful tests for discriminating between acute aortic dissection of the ascending aorta and acute myocardial infarction in the emergency setting. Circ J 2005; 69:677-82. [PubMed]

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