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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 in the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the abdomen, pelvis and legs. The chief 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 flow throughout 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 the location of the aneurysm. Thoracic aneurysms occur in the portion of the aorta that runs through the chest 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 stomach pain, which could be a multitude of diagnoses. However, thoracic aortic aneurysms present a host of symptoms including: hoarseness, trouble swallowing, swelling in the neck, high-pitched breathing, pain in the upper back or chest, clammy skin, nausea, vomiting, or an increasingly rapid heart rate. Patients with 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 a contrast dye will be injected into your bloodstream followed by x-rays to examine the structure of your aorta. The dye allows blood vessels to show up in the x-ray and a radiologist can look for any abnormalities 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. Your physician will make an incision near the groin into the femoral artery. A graft fitted with a stent is then inserted into the artery and your doctor will work it up through the aorta to the aneurysm. The stent, a small wire mesh tube, will be attached to the wall of the aorta and the graft removed. Eventually, the aneurysm will shrink around the stent which strengthens the wall of the aorta and prevents recurrence of the aneurysm.

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