What is an aortic aneurysm?
An aortic aneurysm
(say "a-OR-tik AN-yuh-rih-zum") is a bulge in a section of the
aorta, the body's main artery. The aorta carries
oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Because the section
with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, it can burst. If the aorta bursts,
it can cause serious bleeding that can quickly lead to death.
Aneurysms can form in any section of the aorta, but they are most common in the
belly area (abdominal aortic aneurysm ). They can also happen in
the upper body (thoracic aortic aneurysm ). Thoracic aortic aneurysms
are also known as ascending or descending aortic aneurysms.
What causes an aortic aneurysm?
The wall of the
aorta is normally very elastic. It can stretch and then shrink back as needed
to adapt to blood flow. But some medical problems, such as
high blood pressure and
atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), weaken
the artery walls. These problems, along with the wear and tear that naturally
occurs with aging, can result in a weak aortic wall that bulges outward.
What are the symptoms?
Most aortic aneurysms
don't cause symptoms. Sometimes a doctor finds them during exams or tests done
for other reasons. People who do have symptoms complain of belly, chest, or
back pain and discomfort. The symptoms may come and go or stay constant.
In the worst case, an aneurysm can burst, or rupture. This causes
severe pain and bleeding. It often leads to death within minutes to hours.
An aortic aneurysm can also lead to other problems. Blood flow
often slows in the bulging section of an aortic aneurysm, causing clots to
form. If a blood clot breaks off from an aortic aneurysm in the chest area, it
can travel to the brain and cause a
stroke. Blood clots that break off from an aortic
aneurysm in the belly area can block blood flow to the belly or legs.
How is an aortic aneurysm diagnosed?
are often diagnosed by chance during exams or tests done for other reasons. In
some cases, they are found during a screening test for aneurysms. Screening
tests help your doctor look for a certain disease or condition before any
Experts recommend screening tests for abdominal aneurysms for men who
- Ages 65 to 75 and have ever smoked.1
- At least 60 years old and have a first-degree relative (for
example, father or brother) who has had an aneurysm.2
These men are more likely to have an aneurysm than are
women or nonsmoking men.
Experts recommend screening tests for a thoracic aneurysm for anyone who has a close relative who has had a thoracic aortic aneurysm.3
If your doctor thinks you have an
aneurysm, you may have tests such as an
CT scan, or an
MRI to find out where it is and how big it is.