Background: Occlusion of the left atrial appendage (LAA) is thought to reduce the risk of thromboembolic events in patients with atrial fibrillation.
Objective: To examine the LAA and its relationship to neighbouring structures that may be put at risk when intervening to occlude its os.
Methods: 31 heart specimens were examined grossly. Four of the LAAs were processed for histological examination and endocasts were made from 11 appendages. The diameters of the LAA os and proximity to the left superior pulmonary vein, mitral valve and left anterior descending artery were measured and areas of thin atrial wall in the vicinity were noted.
Results: The LAA orifice was oval shaped in all cases with a mean (SD) diameter of 17.4 (4) mm (range 10–24.1). The mean (SD) distances of the LAA orifice to the left superior pulmonary vein and mitral valve were 11.1 (4.1) mm and 10.7 (2.4) mm, respectively. The left anterior descending, circumflex artery and, in 6 cases, the sinus node artery, were in close proximity to the LAA. Pits or troughs and areas of thin atrial wall were found in 57.7% of hearts within a 20.9 mm radius from the os. Histology showed small crevices and areas of very thin wall within the trabeculated appendage.
Conclusions: The LAA orifice is oval shaped and thin areas of appendage wall and atrial wall are common. Potentially, the left superior pulmonary vein, mitral valve and anterior descending coronary artery can be at risk during occlusion of the os.