The results are presented of treatment in twenty-three patients with dissection of the thoracic aorta, in four of whom it was acute (less than 14 days' duration), and in nineteen chronic (more than 14 days' duration). Sixteen patients had Type I and II dissection (involving the ascending aorta) and five Type III (descending aorta at or distal to the origin of the left subclavian artery); in two, dissection complicated coarctation of the aorta in the usual site. Thirteen patients had aortic regurgitation. Three of the patients with acute dissection were treated medically; two, both with Type I dissection, died, and the third, with Type III, survived. The remaining acute patient was treated surgically and also died. Of the patients with chronic dissection, eight were treated medically and eleven surgically. None of the medical group died in hospital; three died between 3 months and 1 year, and five have survived from periods of 12-72 months. Eleven patients with chronic dissection were treated surgically; four died in hospital at or shortly after operation; and the remaining seven lived for periods of 12-84 months. The presentation, indications for surgical treatment and results are discussed. It is concluded that surgical treatment of chronic dissection may carry a higher initial mortality than medical, but that there may be slightly better overall long term results in the former. As this series was not selected randomly, because patients with complications were selected for surgery, and there are only a few patients in each group, the results do not permit firm conclusion regarding the relative merits of medical and surgical treatment. It is suggested that all patients should initially be treated medically but that surgical treatment should be considered if the dissection continues, if aortic regurgitation is severe, if an aneurysm develops or enlarges, if cardiac tamponade develops or there is evidence of progressive involvement of the branches of the aorta. Attention is drawn to the important syndrome of chronic dissecting aneurysm of the ascending aorta with severe aortic regurgitation which requires definitive surgical treatment and aortic valve replacement. The importance of adequate visualization of the origin and extent of the dissection as a preliminary to surgical treatment is stressed.
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