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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and Aortic Aneurysm

What Are the Symptoms of an Aortic Aneurysm?

Aortic aneurysms often cause no symptoms at all. But if present, symptoms include:

  • Tearing pain in the chest, abdomen, and/or middle of the back between the shoulder blades.
  • Thoracic aneurysms may cause shortness of breath, hoarseness, cough (due to pressure on the lungs and airways), and difficulty swallowing (pressure on the esophagus)
  • Rupture of an aneurysm can cause loss of consciousness, stroke, shock, or a heart attack

If you are experiencing sudden unexplained chest, abdominal, or back pain, or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, seek medical attention.

How Are Aortic Aneurysms Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm is difficult because often there are no symptoms. A doctor may find one incidentally during an exam. A thoracic aneurysm may cause a heart murmur. An abdominal aneurysm feels like a pulsating mass in the stomach.

If one is detected, it must be monitored. Aneurysms are at higher risk of rupture as they grow larger. Doctors will monitor them carefully and may recommend repair when they are more than 5 cm wide. Tests to detect them include:

How Are Aortic Aneurysms Treated?

Small aortic aneurysms that aren't causing any symptoms are monitored over time until they become large and at a higher risk for rupture.

When an aortic aneurysm is large or associated with symptoms, the weakened section of the vessel can be surgically removed and replaced with a graft of artificial material. If the aneurysm is close to the aortic valve, valve replacement may also be recommended.

Repairing the aneurysm surgically is complicated and requires an experienced surgical team. However, neglecting an aneurysm presents a higher risk. The repair requires open-chest or abdominal surgery, general anesthesia and usually a minimum hospital stay of five days. If you've undergone surgery to repair an aneurysm, it is recommended you adopt the same heart-healthy lifestyle led by other heart surgery patients. Newer techniques for repairing abdominal and thoracic aneurysms involve placing a graft without surgery and may benefit higher-risk patients.

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