Cervical aortic arch

Dr Vincent Tatco et al.

Cervical aortic arch is a rare anomaly characterised by an elongated, high-lying aortic arch extending at or above the level of the medial ends of the clavicles.

Patients with cervical aortic arch are usually asymptomatic. Symptomatic patients may present with 1-13:

  • palpable supraclavicular mass
  • dysphagia
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • hoarseness
  • stridor
  • choking
  • apneic spells
  • chest pain
  • recurrent pulmonary infection

A cervical aortic arch develops most likely from the persistence of the embryonic third aortic arch instead of the fourth1-13.


According to Haughton and colleagues, there are five distinct forms of cervical aortic arch, which are classified according to the configuration of the aorta, sequence of brachiocephalic branching, and embryogenesis 1:

  • type A: contralateral descending aorta and absence of one common carotid artery
    • has separate external and internal carotid artery branches from the aortic arch
    • results from persistence of the entire third primitive aortic arch on one side and involution of the contralateral ductus caroticus and of the fourth aortic arches bilaterally
  • type B: contralateral descending aorta and presence of both common carotid arteries
    • dual common carotid arteries
    • development is similar to type A but with formation of common carotid arteries rather than separate internal and external carotid arteries proximally
  • type C: contralateral descending aorta and bicarotid trunk
    • usually left cervical arch with a right-sided descending aorta
    • results when the distal aorta is connected with a right-sided ductus arteriosus and the transverse aorta has migrated abnormally
    • cases have a common trunk from which right and left common carotids originate (bicarotid trunk)
  • type D: ipsilateral descending aorta with normal sequence of brachiocephalic branching
    • most common
    • forms when the process of involution is conventional but the aortic segment between the left common carotid and left subclavian arteries is excessively long
    • usually left cervical arch with a normal branching pattern, redundant transverse aorta and left-sided often hypoplastic descending aorta
    • redundancy of the aorta, high position of the transverse aorta, and a predilection for hypoplasia of the descending aorta are features common to both the type D cervical aortic arch and pseudocoarctation of the aorta
  • type E: right aortic arch and right descending aorta 
    • formed by development of a right arch and failure of migration of the apex of the arch to the thoracic region
    • with an aberrant left subclavian artery

Reported associations include:

Plain radiograph
  • the high-riding arch may be seen as a mass-like paratracheal soft tissue density
  • normal aortic knob may be absent
  • widened mediastinum
  • compression and displacement of the trachea and oesophagus may be demonstrated

Echocardiography may demonstrate colour flow jets in opposite directions indicative of tortuous aneurysmal dilatation of the aortic arch at the cervical position 10. 

Angiography: CTA/MRA/DSA

Will allow direct visualisation of arch anatomy and associated anomalies.

Surgical treatment is commonly indicated for relief of symptoms resulting from compression of the trachea and oesophagus, correction of associated intracardiac defects, repair of associated aneurysms and aortic obstruction 2,3

DG Reid first reported the first case of cervical aortic arch in 1914 12,13.


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Article Information

rID: 44142
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:

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Cases and Figures

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    Case 1: type D with aneurysms and coarctation
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