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Radiographics. 2000 Jul-Aug;20(4):995-1005.

Penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer of the aorta: imaging features and disease concept.

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Department of Radiology, Nagasaki University School of Medicine, Sakamoto, Japan.


Penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer is an ulcerating atherosclerotic lesion that penetrates the elastic lamina and is associated with hematoma formation within the media of the aortic wall. This pathologic condition is distinct from classic aortic dissection and aortic rupture; however, care should be taken in making the diagnosis, particularly if the disease is discovered incidentally. At computed tomography (CT), penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer manifests as focal involvement with adjacent subintimal hematoma and is often associated with aortic wall thickening or enhancement. Magnetic resonance imaging is superior to conventional CT in differentiating acute intramural hematoma from atherosclerotic plaque and chronic intraluminal thrombus and allows unenhanced multiplanar imaging. Spiral CT involves shorter examination times and allows high-quality two- and three-dimensional image reconstruction. CT angiography can demonstrate complex spatial relationships, mural abnormalities, and extraluminal pathologic conditions. Transesophageal echocardiography has been reported to be highly sensitive and specific in the differentiation of aortic disease, and intravascular ultrasonography may also be useful in this setting. Although rupture or other life-threatening complications are rare, patients with penetrating atherosclerotic ulcer must be followed up, particularly during the 1st month after onset. Surgical treatment may become necessary in cases involving evidence of intramural hematoma expansion, signs of impending rupture, inability to control pain, or blood pressure changes.

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