Potential of unenhanced computed tomography as a screening tool for acute aortic syndromes

Eur Heart J Acute Cardiovasc Care. 2021 Dec 6;10(9):967-975. doi: 10.1093/ehjacc/zuab069.


Aims: Contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CE-CT) is the gold standard for diagnosing acute aortic syndromes (AAS). Unenhanced computed tomography (unenhanced-CT) also provides specific findings for AAS; however, its diagnostic ability is not well discussed. This study aims to evaluate the potential of unenhanced-CT as an AAS screening tool.

Methods and results: We retrospectively examined AAS patients who visited our hospital between 2011 and 2021 to validate the diagnostic value of unenhanced-CT alone and along with the aortic dissection detection risk score (ADD-RS) plus D-dimer. Acute aortic syndrome was assessed as detectable using unenhanced-CT with any of the following findings: pericardial haemorrhage, high-attenuation haematoma, and displacement of intimal calcification or a flap. Of the 316 AAS cases, 292 (92%) were detectable with unenhanced-CT. Twenty-four (8%) cases undetectable with unenhanced-CT involved younger patients [median (interquartile range), 45 (42-51) years vs. 72 (63-80) years, P < 0.001] and patients more frequently complicated with a patent false lumen (79% vs. 42%, P < 0.001). Acute aortic syndrome-detection rate with unenhanced-CT increased with age, reaching 98% (276/282) in those ≥50 years of age and 100% (121/121) in those ≥75 years of age. With the ADD-RS plus D-dimer, there was only one AAS case undetectable with unenhanced-CT among patients ≥50 years of age, except for cases with the ADD-RS ≥1 plus D-dimer levels of ≥0.5 μg/mL.

Conclusion: Acute aortic syndromes in younger patients and patients with a patent false lumen could be misdiagnosed with unenhanced-CT alone. The combination of the ADD-RS plus D-dimer and unenhanced-CT could minimize AAS misdiagnosis while avoiding over-testing with CE-CT.

Keywords: Acute aortic syndromes; Aortic dissection detection risk score; D-dimer; Unenhanced computed tomography.

MeSH terms

  • Aneurysm, Dissecting* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hematoma
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Syndrome
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed