Emergency surgical management of acute aortic dissection: role of transesophageal echocardiography

G Mastrogiovanni, P Masiello, R Leone, S Iesu, G Di Benedetto
Giornale Italiano di Cardiologia 1999, 29 (10): 1137-41
The accuracy of transesophageal echocardiography in the diagnosis and surgical management of acute aortic dissection was determined in 54 patients who underwent surgery for acute aortic dissection. Results of the investigations were compared to the surgical assessment. From April 1993 to November 1997, we operated 54 patients (44 male and 10 female) for acute aortic dissection. Mean age was 60 +/- 9 years. At surgery, a De Bakey type I aortic dissection was diagnosed in 30 patients, type II in 23 and type III retrograde in 1. Operating procedures were: replacement of ascending aorta (24 cases), replacement of ascending aorta and aortic arch (17 cases), replacement of ascending aorta and aortic valve replacement (2 cases), Bentall procedure (6 cases) and end-to-end anastomosis of the ascending aorta (4 cases). Initial diagnosis, performed in emergency wards, was done on a clinical basis in 6 patients, on CT scan in 19, on transthoracic echocardiography in 14, and on TEE basis in 12. Three patients underwent angiography before our evaluation. As per our protocol, all patients underwent confirmation of the diagnosis by TEE. Seven patients needed additional instrumental investigations, 2 with CT scan and 5 with angiography. TEE confirmed the diagnosis of aortic dissection in all cases but one. Moreover, it described the site of the intimal tear, the extension of the dissecting process and accessory findings, such as pericardial effusion, aortic incompetence and left ventricular function. The interval between patient presentation and skin incision was a maximum of 70 minutes. At surgery, diagnosis of De Bakey classification was confirmed in 98% of cases; in 90.7% of cases exact location of the entry site was confirmed. In one case, an entry site in the arch diagnosed by TEE but not recognized at surgery, was observed at necropsy. Intraoperatively, we routinely used TEE to monitor retrograde systemic perfusion and correct implant of the vascular prosthesis. One case of malperfusion of the thoracic aorta through the false lumen was observed and managed. In one case we diagnosed acute obstruction of the prosthesis by bleeding in the wrapped aorta, which required reoperation. Assessment of ventricular function was obtained in all patients: in two cases, observation of low right ventricular function led us to perform aortocoronary by-pass to the right coronary artery. In conclusion, the high level of correspondence between TEE diagnosis and surgical anatomy prompted us to perform transesophageal echocardiography as the primary and often sole diagnostic procedure in acute aortic dissection. TEE, in experienced hands, has proven to be a highly reliable, safe and low-cost diagnostic tool. It can be performed at the patient's bedside within just a few minutes of the suspected diagnosis, thereby lowering the mortality rate of the natural history. Again, it can also be used in the operating theatre as an "on-line examination" as well as for assessment of correct surgical repair. Other diagnostic procedures do not yield more information and can cause dangerous delays in intervention.

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