Have you ever had a pipe burst in the winter because it froze and too much pressure built up? An aortic aneurysm is a little like that. It's a bulging in your aorta, your body's largest blood vessel (artery), that can cause blood to flood all over your body if it bursts.
If your doctor diagnosed you with an aortic aneurysm, you might wonder what happens next. Does this mean it will burst and be fatal? Not if it is caught in time. Here are some things to keep in mind:
An aneurysm can be in your chest or in your abdomen. Most of the time they’re found by accident when your doctor is checking your heart or chest for something else. He might detect a large throbbing mass in your abdomen that feels very painful, or he may hear an unusual sound when he listens to your abdomen with a stethoscope.
If you have a disease like Marfan syndrome, Loeys-Dietz syndrome, or vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or if aneurysms run in your family, ask your doctor to measure the diameter of your aorta -- that's a way of checking to see if an aneurysm is growing.
The treatment of your aneurysm depends on how big it is. If it's less than 5 centimeters, or 2 inches, your doctor might try to treat it with medication first. He might prescribe drugs, such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers to lower your blood pressure and relax your blood vessels. These medications will lessen the chance that your aneurysm will rupture or burst.
Your doctor will continue to monitor you every 6 months to see whether or not your aneurysm is growing. He will also tell you to avoid heavy lifting, which puts pressure on your aorta.
If your aneurysm continues to grow and if you have symptoms, like chest, back, or jaw pain, your doctor may decide to perform surgery on you to remove the bulge.
The most common type of surgery is open abdominal or chest repair, where the doctor opens up your chest or abdomen, depending on where the problem is, removes the bulge in your aorta, and replaces it with a fabric tube called a graft.
A newer, less invasive procedure called endovascular repair involves guiding a device called a stent graft through the groin and to the site of the aneurysm. Your doctor places the stent graft (a wire frame sewn onto a fabric tube) inside the aorta, which lessens the pressure on the weakened artery walls. The type of procedure you have depends on your general health and where your aneurysm is located.
A month to 6 weeks after surgery, you should be able to resume normal activities.
If your aneurysm is small, your doctor may not even prescribe medication for you but instead recommend lifestyle changes. Or he may recommend you make life changes in addition to medication, including the following: