Aortic tear, which killed diplomat Richard Holbrooke, often occurs without warning

U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke died Monday of an aortic tear, which can be a quick killer that’s hard to detect. This disease also has taken the lives of actors John Ritter and Lucille Ball, and volleyball player Flo Hyman.

An aortic tear, or dissection, occurs after the artery rips and blood seeps through and weakens the artery. This Los Angeles Times story explains: “A sudden spike in blood pressure or a blow to the chest, such as in a car accident, can cause the weakened artery to rupture. The victim feels a crushing or tearing pain in the chest or back.”

The Society for Vascular Surgery notes that such tears can be acute or chronic. Further, it says that vascular disease is particularly common among white men older than 65. Read more from the organization here.

And here’s what the society has to say about screenings.