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Heart & Vascular Institute

Aortic Aneurysm

What is an aortic aneurysm?

An aneurysm is the ballooning or bulging of a weakened blood vessel wall. An aortic aneurysm occurs inthe aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the abdomen, pelvis and legs. Thechief cause of aortic aneurysms is atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, in this case the aorta.The pressure of blood flowing through the aneurysm can cause the vessel to burst disrupting blood flowthroughout the body. A ruptured aneurysm can be life-threatening.

There are two main types of aortic aneurysms: thoracic and abdominal. The names are derived from thelocation of the aneurysm. Thoracic aneurysms occur in the portion of the aorta that runs through thechest while abdominal aneurysms are located in the belly and pelvic area.

What are the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm?

Many aneurysms are undetectable until they rupture. Abdominal aortic aneurysms manifest as stomachpain, which could be a multitude of diagnoses. However, thoracic aortic aneurysms present a host ofsymptoms including: hoarseness, trouble swallowing, swelling in the neck, high-pitched breathing, painin the upper back or chest, clammy skin, nausea, vomiting, or an increasingly rapid heart rate. Patientswith high blood pressure or cholesterol or those who smoke are at increased risk for an aortic aneurysm.

How is an aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

Based on symptoms or other risk factors, your doctor may order an angiogram. During an angiogram acontrast dye will be injected into your bloodstream followed by x-rays to examine the structure of youraorta. The dye allows blood vessels to show up in the x-ray and a radiologist can look for anyabnormalities of the vessels and determine if you have an aneurysm or other coronary issues.

How is an aortic aneurysm treated?

Aortic aneurysms are treated through a procedure called endovascular aortic aneurysm repair. Yourphysician will make an incision near the groin into the femoral artery. A graft fitted with a stent is theninserted into the artery and your doctor will work it up through the aorta to the aneurysm. The stent, asmall wire mesh tube, will be attached to the wall of the aorta and the graft removed. Eventually, theaneurysm will shrink around the stent which strengthens the wall of the aorta and prevents recurrenceof the aneurysm.

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