Reliable methods for measuring the thoracic aorta are critical for determining treatment strategies in aneurysmal disease. Z-scores are a pragmatic alternative to raw diameter sizes commonly used in adult medicine. They are particularly valuable in the pediatric population, who undergo rapid changes in physical development. The advantage of the Z-score is its inclusion of body surface area (BSA) in determining whether an aorta is within normal size limits. Therefore, Z-scores allow us to determine whether true pathology exists, which can be challenging in growing children. In addition, Z-scores allow for thoughtful interpretation of aortic size in different genders, ethnicities, and geographical regions. Despite the advantages of using Z-scores, there are limitations. These include intra- and inter-observer bias, measurement error, and variations between alternative Z-score nomograms and BSA equations. Furthermore, it is unclear how Z-scores change in the normal population over time, which is essential when interpreting serial values. Guidelines for measuring aortic parameters have been developed by the American Society of Echocardiography Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease Council, which may reduce measurement bias when calculating Z-scores for the aortic root. In addition, web-based Z-score calculators have been developed to aid in efficient Z-score calculations. Despite these advances, clinicians must be mindful of the limitations of Z-scores, especially when used to demonstrate beneficial treatment effect. This review looks to unravel the mystery of the Z-score, with a focus on the thoracic aorta. Here, we will discuss how Z-scores are calculated and the limitations of their use.
Keywords: Pediatrics; Thoracic aorta; Z-score.