An aneurysm is defined as a bulge or "ballooning" (enlarging and thinning) of a weakened area of a blood vessel. Aortic aneurysms are a swelling or ballooning of the aorta wall where it has been thinned and weakened from atherosclerosis. The aorta is the body's largest blood vessel and carries blood directly from the heart down through the chest and abdomen for distribution throughout the rest of the body. The aneurysm can be located in the:
- Chest, which is known as a thoracic aortic aneurysm – TAA
- Abdomen, which is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm – AAA
They can often grow over a period of years. If untreated, an aneurysm can eventually rupture, which is usually fatal.
Symptoms and Risk Factors for an Aneurysm
Statistics show that males have a higher risk of aneurysms than females. Symptoms include:
- Small pulsating mass near the navel
- Back and abdominal pain
- Increased tenderness in the location of the aneurysm
In many cases, aneurysms are discovered during tests for other medical conditions. Early detection allows patients and their doctors to decide on the best possible treatment.
- Older than the age of 60
- High blood pressure
- Family history
Aneurysms cause about 15,000 deaths each year, and are the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S. Since it is extremely difficult to diagnose, it is important for those at risk to ask their doctor about screening exams. These exams are painless and may save your life!
A physical exam, ultrasound examination, and CT scan are used to evaluate aneurysms. Aneurysm repair, or aneurysm surgery, is generally recommended; however, treatment options differ depending on the type of aneurysm. Learn more about treatment for thoracic aortic aneurysms and abdominal aortic aneurysms.