Clinical experience with aortic saddle embolus (ASE) is not extensive due to the relative infrequent lodging of emboli at the aortic bifurcation. During the period 1962–1982, 26 patients (mean age, 56 years) were treated at the UCLA Medical Center for ASE and followed from 2 to 158 months (mean, 45 months). These cases were reviewed in order to identify features of diagnosis, anticoagulation, and operation which impact on results. All 26 patients presented with bilateral lower extremity ischemia with or without extension of clot to the iliac bifurcation. Ninety-six per cent of emboli were of cardiac origin and one-third occurred in patients who had previous symptoms of chronic lower extremity ischemia. Rest pain and motor/sensory deficits were main complaints in 92% of the patients, but did not become manifest until more than 6 hours, unlike more distal emboli which have an earlier presentation. Preoperative angiography, even in the patient with a history of claudication, has a small role in planning the surgical approach to patients with ASE and, although performed in 11 patients, it influenced operation in only two. Operation within the “golden period” of 6 hours after embolization did not significantly influence outcome after ASE, since 20 patients were operated on more than 6 hours after embolization, with results similar to six patients who were operated on less than 6 hours after embolization. Early high-dose heparinization, used in all patients and maintained for a mean of 12 days, may have contributed to this effect. In 22 patients (85%) Forgarty catheter extraction via bilateral groin approaches was used with a mortality of 14%; only one death was directly attributed to the catheter embolectomy. In 15% of patients, a direct approach on the aorta was selected with a zero mortality rate. Postoperative functional result was excellent with an amputation rate of only 2% (one limb). Re-embolization occurred in seven patients (27%) after discharge, five of whom had not been maintained on Coumadin™ and two who were not anticoagulated adequately. The authors conclude that the keys to successful treatment of ASE include high dose heparin which is maintained through the perioperative period, embolectomy without pre-oprative angiogrphy, and maintenance of long-term oral anticoagulation.
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