An aneurysm is a permanent ballooning in the wall of an artery. The pressure of blood passing through can force part of a weakened artery to bulge outward.
Although any blood vessel can be affected, aneurysms usually form in the abdominal or chest portions of the aorta, the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart, or in arteries nourishing the brain. Aneurysms in any of these places are serious, while those in other locations such as the leg are often less hazardous.
The most serious threat an aneurysm poses is that it will burst and cause a stroke or life-threatening massive bleeding (hemorrhage). If an aneurysm ruptures, the patient must be treated immediately to have a chance of survival.
Early diagnosis and treatment of an aneurysm are critical. Because aneurysms often produce either no symptoms or mild symptoms, routine exams are strongly encouraged so that a doctor can regularly test for warning signs of a more serious problem. Even if it doesn't rupture, a large aneurysm can impede circulation and contribute to the formation of blood clots.
There are many types of aneurysms. Here are a few:
Aortic aneurysm. The aneurysm is located in the aorta. Typically, the widened part of the aorta is considered to be an aneurysm when it is more than 1.5 times its normal size. They can be associated with the buildup of plaque caused by hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. Aneurysms may also be an inherited condition or a complication of high blood pressure or smoking.
Cerebral aneurysm. Also known as a berry aneurysm, this occurs in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain. Smoking increases a person's risk of developing a cerebral aneurysm.
Ventricular aneurysm. This is a ballooning out of part of the wall of the heart. A previous heart attack most commonly causes ventricular aneurysms. In rare cases, severe chest trauma can also cause a ventricular aneurysm.
What Causes an Aneurysm?
Any condition that causes arterial walls to weaken or deteriorate can result in an aneurysm. The most common culprits are atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Penetrating wounds and infections can also lead to an aneurysm. Some types are the result of congenital, or inherited, weakness in artery walls.