Hard to Diagnose and Potentially Fatal: Slow Aortic Erosion Post Spinal Fusion
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BACKGROUND: Delayed aortic injuries are a rare, but well-recognized complication of spinal surgery. They are a result of slow erosion of osteosynthesis material into the aorta. Although this is a life-threatening complication, patients might present years later with nonspecific symptoms. OBJECTIVE: A complex case of slow aortic injury after thoracic spinal surgery is presented, which highlights the challenges involved in diagnosis and treatment. CASE REPORT: A 62-year-old man had a T6 vertebrectomy and T5-7 anterior spinal fusion for multiple myeloma 5 years earlier. Two years postoperatively, the patient developed intermittent hemoptysis that triggered several presentations to the emergency department and consecutive hospital admissions during a 3-year period. All investigations, including endoscopy, bronchoscopy, and repeated chest computed tomography (CT) scans, were unremarkable. Eventually, the patient presented with frank hemoptysis associated with severe left-sided chest pain. Urgent CT angiography revealed a pseudoaneurysm measuring 34 × 20 mm at the level of the vertebrectomy. The patient underwent emergency surgery and an endoluminal stent graft was successfully placed. The patient remains well after 6 months. CONCLUSIONS: The close proximity of the aorta and spine entertains the risk of aortic injury associated with vertebral osteosynthesis. Long-term complications of slow aortic erosion are extremely difficult to diagnose. The presented patient suffered from an undetected bronchio-aortic fistula with consecutive pseudoaneurysm formation and rupture. Awareness of slow aortic erosion is important for correct diagnostic pathways and subsequent early diagnosis to ensure a positive outcome for the patient.