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Surgical treatment of the dilated ascending aorta: when and how?

BACKGROUND: The aorta is considered pathologically dilated if the diameters of the ascending aorta and the aortic root exceed the norms for a given age and body size. A 50% increase over the normal diameter is considered aneurysmal dilatation. Such dilatation of the ascending aorta frequently leads to significant aortic valvular insufficiency, even in the presence of an otherwise normal valve. The dilated or aneurysmal ascending aorta is at risk for spontaneous rupture or dissection. The magnitude of this risk is closely related to the size of the aorta and the underlying pathology of the aortic wall. The occurrence of rupture or dissection adversely alters natural history and survival even after successful emergency surgical treatment.

METHODS: In recommending elective surgery for the dilated ascending aorta, the patient's age, the relative size of the aorta, the structure and function of the aortic valve, and the pathology of the aortic wall have to be considered. The indications for replacement of the ascending aorta in patients with Marfan's syndrome, acute dissection, intramural hematoma, and endocarditis with annular destruction are supported by solid clinical information. Surgical guidelines for intervening in degenerative dilatation of the ascending aorta, however, especially when its discovery is incidental to other cardiac operations, remain mostly empiric because of lack of natural history studies. The association of a bicuspid aortic valve with ascending aortic dilatation requires special attention.

RESULTS: There are a number of current techniques for surgical restoration of the functional and anatomical integrity of the aortic root. The choice of procedure is influenced by careful consideration of multiple factors, such as the patient's age and anticipated survival time; underlying aortic pathology; anatomical considerations related to the aortic valve leaflets, annulus, sinuses, and the sino-tubular ridge; the condition of the distal aorta; the likelihood of future distal operation; the risk of anticoagulation; and, of course, the surgeon's experience with the technique. Currently, elective root replacement with an appropriately chosen technique should not carry an operative risk much higher than that of routine aortic valve replacement. Composite replacement of the aortic valve and the ascending aorta, as originally described by Bentall, DeBono and Edwards (classic Bentall), or modified by Kouchoukos (button Bentall), remains the most versatile and widely applied method. Since 1989, the button modification of the Bentall procedure has been used in 250 patients at Mount Sinai Medical Center, with a hospital mortality of 4% and excellent long-term survival. In this group, age was the only predictor of operative risk (age > 60 years, mortality 7.3% [9/124] compared with age < 60, mortality 0.8% [1/126], p = 0.02).

CONCLUSIONS: This modification of the Bentall procedure has set a standard for evaluating the more recently introduced methods of aortic root repair.

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