An aortic aneurysm is a bulging or enlargement of an area in the aorta. From here a rupture can be life-threatening on account of the bleeding it can cause. This is because the aorta is a major blood vessel and the main supplier to your body. A ruptured aorta results in loss of proper blood supply to the rest of your body.
An aortic aneurysm usually starts small and grows with the pressure of the blood on the weakened area. Once diagnosed, your doctor will begin to monitor your condition closely. Surgery is usually performed only when the aneurysm has ruptured or there is a high risk of doing so.
Although bulging can occur anywhere, aortic aneurysms are essentially of two types. Abdominal aortic aneurysm is more common and occurs in the abdomen. A thoracic aneurysm, on the other hand, occurs in the chest cavity (thorax).
Causes of Aortic Aneurysm
The exact cause of aortic aneurysms is not known. An aneurysm usually occurs in weak parts of the aorta and can grow larger owing to the pressure of blood against the weakened walls of the aorta. Several factors can contribute to this condition including:
- Aging, as the aorta loses elasticity and becomes stiffer
- Injury to the artery
- Congenital abnormalities
- Inflammation of the aorta
- Atherosclerosis which hardens and weakens the arterial walls
- Infection in the lining of the heart
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Inherited disorders such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Family history
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aortic aneurysms were the primary cause of 10,597 deaths and a contributing cause in more than 17,215 deaths in the United States in 2009 (most recent statistics published).
Signs and Symptoms of AAA
Aortic aneurysms may not always produce symptoms until they are significantly enlarged or have ruptured. Signs, if any, may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Leg pain or numbness
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sudden pain in the chest
Thoracic aortic aneurysms are less common than abdominal aortic aneurysms. However, some people can suffer from both types. Men are usually at higher risk for developing aortic aneurysms than women.
Diagnosis of Aortic Aneurysms
An abdominal ultrasound, MRI or computerized tomography (CT) may be used to determine if you have an aortic aneurism. An aneurysm may also be detected if you undergo these tests for other reasons. In some patients, an abdominal aortic aneurism may be discovered during a routine examination of the abdomen. The doctor listens to your heart and checks your legs and feet for blood flow. Tests are necessary to pinpoint the location of your aortic aneurysm as well as the size and rate at which it is growing.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men aged 65–75 years who have a history of smoking should get an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms, irrespective of whether or not they have any symptoms.
Treating Aortic Aneurysm
An aortic aneurysm may be treated with medication or surgery. Medication helps relax the blood vessels and lower blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of rupture. Large aortic aneurysms on the other hand, may require surgery to repair or replace the weakened area of your aorta. Early diagnosis and treatment will help manage your condition better. Aortic aneurysms can enlarge without warning, so individuals who are at risk should be monitored regularly.
At The Vascular Experts, we can help detect if you or a loved one is suffering from an aortic aneurysm. Our experienced team uses state-of-the-art technology to manage and treat your condition. Our patients benefit from high quality preventative care and