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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1992 Jun;103(6):1104-11; discussion 1111-2.

Atheroembolism from the ascending aorta. An emerging problem in cardiac surgery.

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Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, OH 44195-5066.


As the ages of patients undergoing cardiac operations have increased, noncardiac causes of death have increased. To identify these causes of death, we analyzed the autopsy findings in 221 patients undergoing myocardial revascularization or valve operations between 1982 and 1989. Mean age was 65.6 +/- 9.5 years and the range was from 32 to 94 years; 130 patients (58.8%) were male. Autopsies were complete in 129 patients (58.4%) and limited to the chest and abdomen in the remainder. Embolic disease was identified in 69 patients (31.2%). Atheroemboli or abnormalities consistent with atheroemboli were identified in 48 patients (21.7%). Fourteen patients had thromboembolism and 7 had disseminated intravascular coagulation. The prevalence of atheroembolic disease increased dramatically from 4.5% in 1982 to 48.3% in 1989 (p = 0.001). Atheroembolic disease was found in the brain in 16.3% of patients, spleen in 10.9%, kidney in 10.4%, and pancreas in 6.8%. Thirty (62.5%) of the 48 patients had multiple atheroembolic sites. Atheroemboli were more common in patients undergoing coronary artery procedures (43/165; 26.1%) than in those undergoing valve procedures (5/56; 8.9%) (p = 0.008). There was a high correlation of atheroemboli with severe atherosclerosis of the ascending aorta. Atheroembolic events occurred in 46 of 123 patients (37.4%) with severe disease of the ascending aorta but in only 2 of 98 patients (2%) without significant ascending aortic disease (p less than 0.0001). Forty-six of 48 patients (95.8%) who had evidence of atheroemboli had severe atherosclerosis of the ascending aorta. There was a direct correlation between age, severe atherosclerosis of the ascending aorta, and atheroemboli. Incremental risk factors for atheroembolic are peripheral vascular disease and severe atherosclerosis of the ascending aorta.

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