Is aortic dilatation an atherosclerosis-related process? Clinical, laboratory, and transesophageal echocardiographic correlates of thoracic aortic dimensions in the population with implications for thoracic aortic aneurysm formation

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2003 Sep 17;42(6):1076-83. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(03)00922-7.


Objectives: The study determined, in a population-based setting, whether dilatation of the thoracic aorta is an atherosclerosis-related process.

Background: The role of atherosclerosis in thoracic aortic dilatation and aneurysm formation is poorly defined.

Methods: The dimensions of the thoracic aorta were measured with transesophageal echocardiography in 373 subjects participating in a population-based study (median age 66 years; 52% men). The associations between clinical and laboratory atherosclerosis risk factors, aortic atherosclerotic plaques, and aortic dimensions were examined.

Results: Age, male gender, and body surface area (BSA) jointly accounted for 41%, 31%, 38%, and 47% of the variability in diameters of the sinuses of Valsalva, ascending aorta, aortic arch, and descending aorta, respectively. Adjusting for age, gender, and BSA: 1) smoking was associated with a greater aortic arch diameter, and diastolic blood pressure and diabetes were each associated with a greater descending aorta diameter (p < 0.05); 2) atherosclerotic plaques in the descending aorta were associated with a greater descending aorta diameter (0.18 +/- 0.08-mm increase in diameter per 1-mm increase in plaque thickness; p = 0.02); and 3) minor negative associations were noted between atherosclerotic plaques and risk factors for atherosclerosis and the dimensions of the proximal thoracic aorta. Notably, atherosclerosis risk factors and plaque variables each accounted for <2% of the variability in aortic dimensions, adjusting for age, gender, and BSA.

Conclusions: Age, gender, and BSA are major determinants of thoracic aortic dimensions. Atherosclerosis risk factors and aortic atherosclerotic plaques are weakly associated with distal aortic dilatation, suggesting that atherosclerosis plays a minor role in aortic dilatation in the population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aorta / diagnostic imaging
  • Aorta / pathology
  • Aortic Aneurysm, Thoracic / diagnosis
  • Aortic Aneurysm, Thoracic / etiology
  • Aortic Diseases / etiology*
  • Aortic Diseases / pathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / complications*
  • Dilatation, Pathologic / etiology
  • Echocardiography, Transesophageal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors