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November 18, 1992

Management of Small Abdominal Aortic AneurysmsEarly Surgery vs Watchful Waiting

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, White River Junction (Vt) Veterans Administration Medical Center (Dr Katz), and Technology Assessment Program, Department of Medicine (Drs Katz and Littenberg), and Section of Vascular Surgery (Dr Cronenwett), Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH.

JAMA. 1992;268(19):2678-2686. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490190078035

Objective.  —To compare two clinical strategies for the management of small abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) less than 5 cm in diameter: early surgery (repair small AAAs when diagnosed) and watchful waiting (measure AAA size every 6 months and repair when the diameter reaches 5 cm).

Data Sources.  —We reviewed data from an earlier longitudinal study of patients with small AAAs to estimate incidence rates of rupture or acute expansion. Estimates for other parameters in the model were obtained by searching the medical literature (MEDLINE, 1966 to present).

Data Synthesis.  —We constructed a Markov decision tree to compare early surgery with watchful waiting in patients with asymptomatic AAAs less than 5 cm in diameter, with respect to long-term survival in quality-adjusted life years. The average annual rates of rupture or acute expansion for AAAs with a maximal transverse diameter of less than 4.0,4.0 to 4.9, and at least 5.0 cm, are 0, 3.3, and 14.4 events per 100 patient-years of observation, respectively. At an average rupture rate of 3.3 events per 100 patient-years and an average operative risk for elective surgery (4.6%, 30-day mortality), our model predicts that early surgery improves survival in patients who present with a 4-cm AAA. The benefit of early surgery decreases with increased age at presentation. If the average rupture rate for AAAs less than 5 cm is assumed to be low (eg, 0.4 event per 100 patient-years), watchful waiting is favored, particularly as operative risk increases. The decision in this subgroup, however, is sensitive to possible future increases in operative risk.

Conclusions.  —In the majority of scenarios that we examined, early surgery is preferred to watchful waiting for patients with AAAs less than 5 cm in diameter. Watchful waiting is generally favored, however, for patients with a low risk of AAA rupture or acute expansion, including those patients who present with very small AAAs (eg, <4 cm). More accurate data concerning the rupture risk of AAAs less than 5 cm would improve clinical decision making.(JAMA. 1992;268:2678-2686)