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Aortic Aneurysms

What are aortic aneurysms (enlarged aorta)?

The aorta, the main artery in your circulatory system, originates from the left ventricle of your heart and continues on through the center of your chest and abdomen. All the oxygen-rich blood that is pumped from the heart travels through the aorta and is distributed to all parts of your body.

An aortic aneurysm is any ballooning or swelling of a section of the aorta which exceeds 1.5 times its normal size. When the bulge or ballooning is uniformly shaped and distributed equally along an extended section of the aorta, it is called a fusiform aneurysm. When it is a small, lop-sided blister on a single weakened side of the aorta, it is called a saccular aneurysm.

What are the common symptoms of an aortic aneurysm?

Usually, aneurysms develop slowly, over many years. Most aortic aneurysms do not produce symptoms, especially those in the chest area (thoracic aortic aneurysms.) Often an aneurysm is found only when imaging tests are done for other reasons. If an aneurysm is not treated, it may become enlarged and exert pressure on other organs, triggering symptoms in the abdomen or chest.

Is there more than one type of aortic aneurysm?

There are two main types: abdominal (belly) aortic aneurysm and thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysm.

What are the symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Discomfort or pain in the belly which is either constant or intermittent is the most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.  Among other symptoms are: chest pain, lower-back pain, or pain in the kidney area that sometimes radiate to the groin, buttocks or legs.

The pain may last for a few hours or even for several days, producing deep, gnawing and/or throbbing sensations. While movement does not necessarily have an impact on these symptoms, certain positions may help alleviate some of the discomfort.

Pulsing sensations in the belly may be warning signs of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm can create blood clot which breaks off and obstruct blood flow to the legs or feet; black or blue painful toes or a cold foot may be significant symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Weight loss or a persistent fever can be symptoms of an inflammatory aortic aneurysm.

What are the symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

A deep aching or throbbing chest pain is the most common thoracic aortic aneurysm symptom. If the thoracic aortic aneurysm is located in the lung area, it can cause coughing or shortness of breath. Difficulty or pain when swallowing and hoarseness are also symptoms of thoracic aortic aneurysm.

What factors increase your risk of an aortic aneurysm?

Any prior history of smoking along with age is significant risk factors. Other risk factors create a predisposition for an aortic aneurysm and include: race, accumulated plaque in your arteries, being male and family history.

What causes an aortic aneurysm?

Marfan syndrome is a common cause of aortic aneurysm. A genetic condition interferes with healthy connective tissue in the body and can produce weakening of the aortic wall. Other causes may include problems with your heart valves, previous problems with your aorta, or a traumatic injury such as a serious car accident.

Is an aortic aneurysm dangerous?

An aortic aneurysm is a serious health risk. The aorta is the main supplier of blood throughout your body.  Not all aortic aneurysms rupture; however, when one does it causes severe pain and extensive internal bleeding. If an aortic aneurysm is not treated immediately, it may be fatal.

How is an aortic aneurysm treated?

Following discovery of a large, fast-growing large aneurysm, treatments may vary from watchful waiting to immediate emergency surgery.

Suitable treatment is determined by location of the aortic aneurysm in one of its three locations: the ascending aorta, running up from the heart to the head; the aortic arch, the artery’s curved middle section; and the descending aorta, running downward toward the feet. Depending on the location and the size of the aorta, surgery or observation will be recommended. Open surgery is often used to treat an aneurysm. A less invasive option, endovascular stenting, is recommended in certain (other-delete) instances.

Is aortic aneurysm a widespread condition?

More than 47,000 people die each year from all types of aortic disease — more than from AIDS, breast cancer, motor vehicle accidents or homicides. Approximately 15,000 deaths occur each year in the US due to abdominal aortic aneurysms, usually because rupturing. Once rupturing occurs the likelihood of a successful outcome of surgery is far less than if surgery is performed electively, prior to the rupture.

  • The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
  • Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
  • Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
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  • Mountain Vista Medical Center


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