Fistulas between the aorta and surrounding organs are extremely rare but can be fatal if they are not identified and treated promptly. Most of these fistulas are associated with a history of trauma or vascular intervention. However, spontaneous aortic fistulas (AoFs) can develop in patients with weakened vasculature, which can be due to advanced atherosclerotic disease, collagen-vascular disease, vasculitides, and/or hematogenous infections. The clinical features of AoFs are often nonspecific, with patients presenting with bleeding manifestations, back or abdominal pain, fever, and shock. Confirmation with invasive endoscopy is often impractical in the acute setting. Imaging plays an important role in the management of AoFs, and multiphasic multidetector CT angiography is the initial imaging examination of choice. Obvious signs of AoF include intravenous contrast material extravasation into the fistulizing hollow organ, tract visualization, and aortic graft migration into the adjacent structure. However, nonspecific indirect signs such as loss of fat planes and ectopic foci of gas are seen more commonly. These indirect signs can be confused with other entities such as infection and postoperative changes. Management may involve complex and staged surgical procedures, depending on the patient's clinical status, site of the fistula, presence of infection, and anticipated tissue friability. As endovascular interventions become more common, radiologists will need to have a high index of suspicion for this entity in patients who have a history of aneurysms, vascular repair, or trauma and present with bleeding.
Gulati, MD, Aishwarya; Kapoor, MD, Harit; Donuru, MBBS, FRCR, Achala; Gala, MBBS, DNB, Kunal; and Parekh, MBBS, DNB, Maansi, "Aortic Fistulas: Pathophysiologic Features, Imaging Findings, and Diagnostic Pitfalls" (2021). Department of Radiology Faculty Papers. Paper 131.