To study findings at autopsy in patients with fatal acute thromboembolic occlusion of the superior mesenteric artery (SMA).
Summary Background Data:
Acute occlusion of the SMA is difficult to diagnose and mortality remains high. In Malmö, Sweden, the autopsy rate between 1970 and 1982 was 87%, creating possibilities for a population-based study.
Among 23,496 clinical autopsies and 7569 forensic autopsies, 213 cases with acute thromboembolic occlusion of the SMA and intestinal infarction were identified.
A clinical suspicion of intestinal infarction was documented in 32% of the patients, only 35% being in the care of surgeons. The embolus/thrombus ratio was 1.4 to 1. Thrombotic occlusions were located more proximally than embolic occlusions (P < 0.001), intestinal infarction was more extensive (P = 0.025) and thrombotic occlusions were associated with old brain infarction (P = 0.048), aortic wall thrombosis (P = 0.080), and disseminated cancer (P = 0.079). Patients with embolic occlusions (n = 122) had a higher frequency of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) than patients with thrombotic occlusions (P = 0.049). The embolic source was identified in 80%. In 115 (94%), synchronous embolism and/or source of embolus were present. There were findings of remaining cardiac thrombi in 58 (48%) and synchronous emboli affected 273 other arterial segments in 83 (68%).
Early recognition and revascularization would have been a prerequisite for survival in at least half of the patients, since the jejunum, ileum, and colon were affected by infarction. A minority of all patients were under surgical care. AMI, cardiac thrombi, and synchronous emboli were common findings among patients with embolic occlusions.