Penetrating aortic ulcer and aortic intramural hematoma: Treatment strategy

Vascular. 2023 Dec;31(6):1086-1093. doi: 10.1177/17085381221102785. Epub 2022 May 16.


Objectives: The indication, timing, and choice of the treatment modality for penetrating aortic ulcers (PAUs) and intramural hematoma (IMH) are frequently challenging. This article reviews these pathologies and their relation to aortic dissection and proposes a diagnostic and treatment algorithm.

Methods: A review of literature on diagnosis and treatment of PAU and IMH was conducted. The PubMed database was searched using the terms "penetrating aortic ulcer" and "aortic intramural hematoma". Articles were reviewed and the studies involving diagnosis and management of PAU and IMH were included. We subsequently proposed a management algorithm for PAU and IMH based on available evidence.

Results: PAU and IMH are distinct entities from aortic dissection, although they carry a significant risk of progression into dissection, aneurysm, and rupture. PAU and IMH originating in zone 0 of the aorta generally require surgical treatment. When the origin is beyond zone 0, a trial of medical therapy is recommended. Progression of disease on imaging studies, persistent uncontrolled pain, and certain high-risk features warrant surgery. High-risk features signaling risk of disease progression include PAU with IMH, PAU depth more than 10 mm, PAU diameter more than 20 mm, IMH thickness more than 10 mm, and maximum initial aortic diameter more than 40 mm.

Conclusions: High-quality evidence regarding the treatment of PAU and IMH is lacking. These entities can have a malignant course when they are present with associated symptoms and/or when they have associated high-risk features on imaging. An aggressive surgical approach is necessary in that group of patients.

Keywords: Penetrating aortic ulcer; abdominal aorta; aortic dissection; aortic intramural hematoma; thoracic aorta.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aorta
  • Aortic Dissection* / diagnostic imaging
  • Aortic Dissection* / surgery
  • Aortic Intramural Hematoma
  • Hematoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Hematoma / etiology
  • Hematoma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Penetrating Atherosclerotic Ulcer*