Background: The decision whether or not to recommend resection of moderately large descending thoracic and thoracoabdominal aneurysms requires weighing the relatively high mortality and significant risk of paraplegia associated with operation against the likelihood that the aneurysm will rupture spontaneously, with an almost invariably fatal outcome. To better define the risk of aneurysm rupture, we undertook a prospective study of patients who had not had operation on their moderately large descending thoracic and thoracoabdominal aneurysms.
Methods: Patients were enrolled at the time of their second computed tomographic scans: three-dimensional computer-generated reconstructions allowed determination of several dimensional parameters for each study, including diameters and cross-sectional areas at the site of maximal dilatation in the descending aorta and in the abdomen as well as total thoracoabdominal surface area. Comparisons of serial studies permitted calculation of yearly rates of change in these dimensions.
Results: Of 114 patients, 8 died of causes unrelated to the aneurysm, 26 died of rupture, 20 met previously determined criteria for operation, and 60 survived without operation or rupture. Multivariate regression analysis identified maximal diameter in the descending and in the abdominal aorta as independent risk factors for rupture, as well as older age, the presence of even uncharacteristic pain, and a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A piecewise exponential model enabled construction of an equation allowing calculation of rate of rupture in patients in whom the values of the risk factors are known, and also of the probability of rupture in a given individual over a specified time interval.
Conclusions: Because using this equation--based on easily determined risk factors (age, pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, maximal thoracic and maximal abdominal aortic diameter)--allows the risk of aneurysm rupture within a given interval to be estimated fairly accurately for each individual patient, it is our current practice to recommend operation when the calculated risk of rupture within 1 year exceeds the anticipated mortality of elective operation, rather than relying on general operative guidelines based almost exclusively on aneurysm size.