Natural History, Clinical Significance, and the Role of Vascular Referral in the Management of Penetrating Ulcers of the Abdominal Aorta

Rae S. Rokosh, Noor Shah, Brent Safran, Danny C. Kim, Thomas S. Maldonado, Mikel Sadek, Karan Garg, Glenn Jacobowitz, Caron Rockman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Penetrating ulcers of the abdominal aorta (PUAA) are an increasingly common finding on abdominal imaging studies; however, their significance and natural history are not well described. This study's objective was to analyze the demographics, presentation, and outcomes of patients with a radiographic diagnosis of PUAA. Materials and Methods: Patients at our tertiary referral center were identified for inclusion based on a search for the term “penetrating ulcer” in abdominal computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging reports between January 2014 and December 2017. Patients' electronic medical records were retrospectively reviewed to determine baseline medical characteristics, imaging indication, and subsequent clinical course, interventions, and outcomes. Aortic diameters and ulcer depths were measured by a single observer on initial and follow-up imaging to assess for association with concomitant aortic pathology, evolving aortic disease, and ulcer progression, defined as increase in depth of ≥ 1 mm. Statistical analysis was performed using STATA 16 (College Station, TX: StataCorp LLC), and a threshold P-value of <0.05 was set for significance. Results: Ninety-two patients with PUAA were identified; 57 (62%) were male. The mean age at diagnosis was 79.3 years, and comorbidities included hypertension (74%), hyperlipidemia (65%), and malignancy (34%). The most common indication for imaging was chest, back, or abdominal pain (19%). On initial imaging, the mean ulcer depth was 1 cm (range from 0.2 cm to 3.4 cm). Concomitant abdominal aortic dilation ≥ 3 cm was found in 34 (37%) patients. Thirty-six (39%) patients had a vascular surgery consultation immediately after radiographic diagnosis. Follow-up axial imaging was performed on 27 (29%) untreated patients. The overall sample's mean ulcer depth remained essentially unchanged from initial measurement (P = 0.99); however, 14 (52%) patients with follow-up imaging were found to have increased overall aortic diameter. Of the total 92 patients, 9 (10%) underwent an endovascular abdominal aortic intervention during the review period: 2 for symptomatic PUAA and the remainder for progression of concomitant aneurysmal disease. All-cause mortality was 5% during the mean follow-up period of 21.9 months (range 0 to 72.5 months). Of the patients lost to follow-up, 61% did not receive vascular referral after initial diagnosis. Conclusions: PUAA are typically incidental findings identified in elderly, comorbid patients undergoing imaging for an unrelated indication. Although isolated findings of asymptomatic PUAA rarely require surgical intervention, these patients we argue would benefit from vascular surgery referral for long-term follow-up and interval imaging to assess for disease progression and concomitant aortic degeneration, which may necessitate repair. In addition, we observed that most of those patients lost to follow-up did not receive vascular consultation, suggesting that lack of involvement of vascular specialists at the time of diagnosis is a missed opportunity to secure appropriate follow-up and management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-345
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Vascular Surgery
StatePublished - Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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