An aortic aneurysm is a weak, bulging area in the wall of the aorta. The bulging develops from a weakness or defect in the aortic wall and tends to get bigger with time. The aorta is the body's largest artery. It carries blood from the heart for delivery to the rest of the body. The aorta travels through the chest (thoracic aorta) and the abdomen (abdominal aorta). Abdominal aortic aneurysms are more common than thoracic aortic aneurysms.
The greatest danger is that an aneurysm will rupture. This will cause heavy, uncontrollable bleeding (hemorrhage). Aortic aneurysms can also occur with aortic dissection. Dissection is defined as a small tear in the aortic wall. Blood from the aneurysm can leak through this tear and spread between the layers of the aortic wall, eventually leading to rupture of the vessel.
Aneurysms can develop anywhere, but are most common in the aorta, iliac artery, and femoral artery.
is frequently associated with aneurysm. However, it is not thought that this disease alone causes the growth of an aneurysm. It is believed that other factors, such as
high blood pressure
or connective tissue disorders, must be present for an aneurysm to form.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for an aortic aneurysm include the following:
Family members with aneurysms, particularly male children of an effected mother
Great vessel arteritis (Takayasu’s disease)
Injury to the aorta, from either a motor vehicle accident or a stab wound
Many aneurysms do not have symptoms and are detected during a routine physical exam or during x-ray evaluation for another disorder.
Symptoms may occur when the aneurysm grows or disrupts the wall of the aorta. Symptoms depend on the size and location of the aneurysm and may include:
Pain in the abdomen or in the lower back
Boring, gnawing, constant pain occurring over hours or days
Sudden onset of severe stabbing pain
Unusual sensation of pulsing in the abdomen
Cough, shortness of breath (thoracic aortic aneurysm)
Sudden blood pressure drop, fainting (upon rupture of aneurysm)
Coughing up blood
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Pain is the symptom that will most likely cause you to go to the doctor. Most aortic aneurysms are discovered during a routine physical exam.
of the abdomen or chest—a test that uses magnetic waves to make images of the inside of the body
—the use of ultrasound to study the heart and its vessels; a transducer, which records the information, is swallowed by the patient
—the use of x-rays and injection of a contrast dye to make images of the heart and the aorta
—a tube-like instrument is inserted into the heart through a vein or artery (usually in the arm or leg) to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply
Treatment includes surgery or stenting.
Surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm is called
. It involves removing the portion of the aorta that contains the aneurysm and replacing it with a mesh graft.
With aneurysms of the thoracic aorta, the aortic valve may also be affected and need to be replaced or repaired. If the aneurysm involves important branches of the aorta, these vessels may either be repaired or bypassed.
When deciding whether to operate, the doctor will consider:
Depending on where the aneurysm is located and how complex it is, stenting may be done. A stent-graft is a polyester tube covered by a tubular metal web. The stent-graft is inserted through a small incision in the upper thigh into the aorta. Using x-ray, it is guided through the aorta to the site of the aneurysm. With the stent-graft in place, blood flows through the stent-graft instead of into the aneurysm, eliminating the chance of rupture.
There are no guidelines for preventing an aneurysm because the cause is not known. However, you can reduce some of your risk factors by following these recommendations:
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men aged 65-75 who have ever smoked be screened once for abdominal aortic aneurysm with
. This is a painless procedure that gives a picture of the abdomen using sound waves. Early detection of abdominal aortic aneurysm in this group has been shown to reduce mortality from this condition.
¹7/21/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Thompson SG, Ashton HA, Gao L, Scott RA, Multicentre Aneurysm Screening Study Group. Screening men for abdominal aortic aneurysm: 10 year mortality and cost effectiveness results from the randomised Multicentre Aneurysm Screening Study.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a