When American diplomat Richard Holbrooke died from a torn aorta in December 2010, it once again cast a light on a condition that also claimed the life of actor John Ritter in 2003. In Ritters case, the aortic dissection, or tear, was the result of a previously undiagnosed congenital heart condition. The more common causes of aortic dissection, according to Cleveland Clinic cardiac surgeon Marc Gillinov, MD, are high blood pressure and/or a weakening of the wall of the aorta. Diseases such as Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, can contribute to a weakening of the walls of the aorta and other blood vessels. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.