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Clinically isolated descending thoracic aortitis in a healthy older woman: a diagnostic challenge


A woman travelling to Australia in her early 70s presents to a regional emergency department with chest pain and associated shortness of breath. Her medical history was that of seasonal affective disorder treated with citalopram, and an allergy to ibuprofen. Subsequent CT imaging revealed aortic wall thickening and associated periaortic fluid, and a moderate pleural effusion. This was successfully treated with oral prednisolone, responding within 1 day. Further blood tests revealed a high CD4/CD8 T-cell ratio, which can be seen in autoimmune disease, sarcoidosis and haematological malignancies. Without evidence for other autoimmune processes, the patient was given a provisional diagnosis of descending thoracic aortitis secondary to sarcoidosis, prescribed a weaning regimen of prednisolone, and asked to seek further investigation and management in her home country. This is a case with several learning points; rare disease can cause common presentations/reports, and sometimes empirical therapy is the only therapy.

  • vasculitis
  • cardiovascular medicine
  • travel medicine

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