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Ann Thorac Surg. 2002 Jan;73(1):17-27; discussion 27-8.

Yearly rupture or dissection rates for thoracic aortic aneurysms: simple prediction based on size.

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  • 1Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery and School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.



Prior work has clarified the cumulative, lifetime risk of rupture or dissection based on the size of thoracic aneurysms. Ability to estimate simply the yearly rate of rupture or dissection would greatly enhance clinical decision making for specific patients. Calculation of such a rate requires robust data.


Data on 721 patients (446 male, 275 female; median age, 65.8 years; range, 8 to 95 years) with thoracic aortic disease was prospectively entered into a computerized database over 9 years. Three thousand one hundred fifteen imaging studies were available on these patients. Five hundred seventy met inclusion criteria in terms of length of follow-up and form the basis for the survival analysis. Three hundred four patients were dissection-free at presentation; their natural history was followed for rupture, dissection, and death. Patients were excluded from analysis once operation occurred.


Five-year survival in patients not operated on was 54% at 5 years. Ninety-two hard end points were realized in serial follow-up, including 55 deaths, 13 ruptures, and 24 dissections. Aortic size was a very strong predictor of rupture, dissection, and mortality. For aneurysms greater than 6 cm in diameter, rupture occurred at 3.7% per year, rupture or dissection at 6.9% per year, death at 11.8%, and death, rupture, or dissection at 15.6% per year. At size greater than 6.0 cm, the odds ratio for rupture was increased 27-fold (p = 0.0023). The aorta grew at a mean of 0.10 cm per year. Elective, preemptive surgical repair restored life expectancy to normal.


This study indicates that (1) thoracic aneurysm is a lethal disease; (2) aneurysm size has a profound impact on rupture, dissection, and death; (3) for counseling purposes, the patient with an aneurysm exceeding 6 cm can expect a yearly rate of rupture or dissection of at least 6.9% and a death rate of 11.8%; and (4) elective surgical repair restores survival to near normal. This analysis strongly supports careful radiologic follow-up and elective, preemptive surgical intervention for the otherwise lethal condition of large thoracic aortic aneurysm.

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