Finite Element Modeling of Three-Dimensional Pulsatile Flow in the Abdominal Aorta: Relevance to Atherosclerosis

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Abstract

The infrarenal abdominal aorta is particularly prone to atherosclerotic plaque formation while the thoracic aorta is relatively resistant. Localized differences in hemodynamic conditions, including differences in velocity profiles, wall shear stress, and recirculation zones have been implicated in the differential localization of disease in the infrarenal aorta. A comprehensive computational framework was developed, utilizing a stabilized, time accurate, finite element method, to solve the equations governing blood flow in a model of a normal human abdominal aorta under simulated rest, pulsatile, flow conditions. Flow patterns and wall shear stress were computed. A recirculation zone was observed to form along the posterior wall of the infrarenal aorta. Low time-averaged wall shear stress and high shear stress temporal oscillations, as measured by an oscillatory shear index, were present in this location, along the posterior wall opposite the superior mesenteric artery and along the anterior wall between the superior and inferior mesenteric arteries. These regions were noted to coincide with a high probability-of-occurrence of sudanophilic lesions as reported by Cornhill et al. (Monogr. Atheroscler. 15:13–19, 1990). This numerical investigation provides detailed quantitative data on hemodynamic conditions in the abdominal aorta heretofore lacking in the study of the localization of atherosclerotic disease.

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