Plaque and Structural Characteristics of the Descending Thoracic Aorta Using Transesophageal Echocardiography

Gregory M. Lanza, Miguel Zabalgoitia-Reyes, Lee Frazin, Sheridan N. Meyers, Caryn L. Spitzzeri, Michael J. Vonesh, David J. Mehlman, James V. Talano, David D. McPherson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The in vivo acoustic and structural characteristics of atherosclerosis in the descending thoracic aorta have not been well delineated. We prospectively evaluated the descending thoracic aorta of 147 patients (35 women and 112 men; age, 61 ± 14 years) who underwent clinically indicated transesophageal echocardiography. Patients with suspected disease of the aorta were excluded. Thirty-eight patients (26%) had protruding plaques (men, 25%; women, 29%). Six patients had mobile intimal densities with the mobile area ranging up to 1 cm2. As expected, aortic lumen area was decreased (plaque-free, 3.53 cm2; plaque, 3.19 cm2; p < 0.05) and wall area was increased (plaque-free, 1.51 cm2; plaque, 1.92 cm'; p < 0.05) in the regions of the plaque. However, total arterial area was not increased (plaque-free, 5.04 cm2; plaque, 5.09 cm2; difference not significant) in a compensatory manner as observed in other arterial beds. Plaque gray scale was less than the gray scale of plaque-free wall (plaque-free, 141.2; plaque, 122.7; p < 0.05) when compared at the same level of the descending thoracic aorta or with a second aortic plaque-free level (plaque-free, 150.4; plaque, 122.7; p < 0.05). Standard deviation of gray scale level was similar between plaque and normal regions. Unsuspected protruding plaques in the descending thoracic aorta occurred in one quarter of the patients referred for routine transesophageal examination. Plaques tended to have lower echogenicity and were differentiated from plaque-free walls within patients. Plaque formation did not result in increased total arterial area. These data suggest that the degree or character of compensatory atherosclerotic remodeling in the highly elastic descending thoracic aorta may differ from other arterial beds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Society of Echocardiography
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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