Diagnostic performance of emergency transthoracic focus cardiac ultrasound in suspected acute type A aortic dissection

Intern Emerg Med. 2014 Sep;9(6):665-70. doi: 10.1007/s11739-014-1080-9. Epub 2014 May 29.


Type A aortic dissection (AD) is a deadly disease. Rapid identification of patients requiring immediate advanced aortic imaging or transfer to specialized centers is needed to improve outcomes. We evaluated the diagnostic performance of transthoracic focus cardiac ultrasound (FOCUS) performed by emergency physicians, alone and in combination with the aortic dissection detection (ADD) risk score in suspected type A AD. This was a prospective study performed on patients with suspected type A AD. FOCUS evaluated the presence of intimal flap/intramural hematoma (direct signs of AD), ascending aorta dilatation, aortic valve insufficiency or pericardial effusion/tamponade (indirect signs of AD). The ADD risk score of each patient was calculated according to guidelines. The final diagnosis was established after review of complete clinical data. 50 (18%) patients of 281 had a final diagnosis of type A AD. Detection of any FOCUS sign (direct or indirect) of AD had a sensitivity of 88% (95% CI 76-95%) for the diagnosis of type A AD. Presence of ADD risk score > 0 or detection of any FOCUS sign increased diagnostic sensitivity to 96% (95% CI 86-99%). Detection of direct FOCUS signs had a specificity of 94% (95% CI 90-97%), while combination of ADD risk score > 1 with detection of direct FOCUS signs had a specificity of 98% (95% CI 96-99%). FOCUS demonstrated acceptable accuracy as a triage tool to rapidly identify patients with suspected type A AD needing advanced aortic imaging or transfer, but it cannot be used as a stand-alone test even if combined with ADD risk score classification.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aneurysm, Dissecting / classification
  • Aneurysm, Dissecting / diagnostic imaging*
  • Aortic Aneurysm, Thoracic / classification
  • Aortic Aneurysm, Thoracic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Emergencies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Assessment
  • Ultrasonography