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J Vasc Surg. 2007 Jun;45(6):1114-8; discussion 1118-9.

Effectiveness of intensive medical therapy in type B aortic dissection: a single-center experience.

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  • 1University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison 53792, USA.



Although the mainstay of managing acute descending thoracic aortic dissection (ADTAD) remains medical, certain patients will require emergency surgery for complications of rupture or ischemia. This study evaluates factors that affect outcome and determines which patients previously treated surgically would have been eligible for endovascular repair.


A single-institution retrospective study was conducted of patients who presented with clinical signs of ADTAD that was confirmed by magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or computed tomography (CT). All patients were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and medically managed to maintain systolic blood pressure<120 mm Hg and heart rate<70 beats/min. Two treatment groups were identified: group 1 received medical treatment only; group 2 received medical treatment plus emergency surgery. Patient demographic and clinical data were correlated with 30-day group mortality and morbidity and need for emergency surgery. The MRA and CT scan images of group 2 were retrospectively reviewed to determine if currently available endovascular treatment could have been done. The Fisher exact test was used to compare between the groups, and P<.05 was considered significant.


Between 1991 and 2005, 83 patients (55 men) were treated for ADTAD. The mean age was 67 years (range, 38 to 85). Sixty-eight patients (82%) had hypertension, three (3.6%) had Marfan syndrome, and 51 (62%) were smokers. Twenty-five (32%) of the patients were receiving beta-blocker therapy before the onset of their symptoms. Back pain was the most common initial symptom (72.2%). Emergency surgery was required in 19 patients (23%): 12 for rupture or impending rupture, four for mesenteric ischemia, and three for lower extremity ischemia. The need for emergency surgery was significantly higher in smokers (P=.03), in patients>70 years old (P=.035), and in patients who were not receiving beta-blocker therapy before the onset of symptoms (P=.023). The combined overall morbidity rate was 33%, and the mortality rate was 9.6%. Morbidity in group 2 was 64% and significantly higher than the 23% in group 1 (P=.00227). The mortality rate was also higher in group 2 at 31.5% compared with group 1 at 1.6% (P=.0004). Factors affecting the overall mortality included age>70 years (P=.057), previous abdominal aortic aneurysm repair (P=.018), tobacco use (P=.039), and the presence of leg pain at initial presentation (P=.013). As determined from the review of radiologic data, 11 of 13 patients with scans available for review in group 2 could have been treated with currently available endovascular grafts.


Intensive medical therapies are effective in preventing early mortality associated with ADTAD. Predictably, the need for emergency surgery carries a high morbidity and mortality rate. Most patients in this series requiring emergency surgery could have been candidates for endovascular therapy had it been available.

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