CHICAGO – For some patients, surveillance of low-risk abdominal aortic aneurysms is so stressful that early repair might be a better option.
Until now, though, it’s been hard to know who those patients are. There hasn’t been a way to quantify the impact of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) surveillance on quality of life.
Dr. Bjoern Suckow, a vascular surgeon at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and elsewhere are working to fix that problem. “I do believe that there is a certain subset of patients who we know are” at low risk for rupture “who are so consumed by fear and anxiety during surveillance that the impact on quality of life might make us want to repair them slightly sooner. I hope this will help us weed out who that subgroup might be,” Dr. Suckow said at a meeting hosted by the Society for Vascular Surgery.
With the help of patient and physician focus groups and interviews, the team developed AAA-specific quality of life (QOL) surveys and administered them to 351 patients under surveillance for aneurysms below about 5.5 cm, and 657 who had undergone mostly endovascular AAA repair at six United States institutions.
The surveys included nine questions to assess concerns about rupture, surgery, costs, and death. The responses were averaged to give an emotional impact score (EIS) ranging from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating worse emotional QOL. The survey also included 10 questions to assess changes in heavy lifting, strenuous activity, travel habits, and other behaviors. Those results were averaged to give a behavioral change score (BCS) that also ranged from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating greater negative impact.
A significant portion of the surveillance patients thought it was “very likely” their aneurysm would rupture within a year; their EIS was 45 and BCS 30; patients who thought rupture was unlikely had an EIS of 12 and BCS of 13 (P less than .001). Overall, patients under surveillance had worse emotional impact sores than did those who had undergone repair.
“We routinely counsel patients with small aneurysms that the rupture risk is low” – less than 5% – “and outweighed by the higher risk of repair. We were surprised that even though we feel we do a great job counseling and educating our patients, some of them do not understand or retain what we mean.” Eventually, surveys could be used in the clinic to identify patients with “less understanding, so [we can] spend more time with them,” Dr. Suckow said.
In general, “the range of impact on QOL by AAA surveillance is broad. For most patients, the impact is minimal, but for some, especially those with a greater perceived rupture risk, it is severe. Overall, surveillance has a persistent negative impact on QOL, particularly emotional QOL. This impact appears to diminish following either open or endovascular repair,” he said.
The respondents were about 76 years old, on average. Most were white men, and about half were high school graduates.
Dr. Suckow has no relevant financial conflicts. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and career development awards from the Society for Vascular Surgery and the American College of Surgeons.