Aortic Aneurysm


The aorta is the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body. An aortic aneurysm is a weakened area in the upper part of the aorta. This could cause a leak that spills blood into your body.

Some aortic aneurysms burst, some don’t. Others force blood flow away from your organs and tissues, causing problems such as heart attacks, kidney damage, stroke, and even death.

There are two types of aortic aneurysms. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is in the chest and genes play a role in your chances of having this type of aortic aneurysm. The other is in the abdomen and is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Other causes for aortic aneurysms may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Infection
  • Plaque buildup in your arteries
  • High cholesterol
  • Sudden traumatic injury

Signs & Symptoms

Jump Up

You might not know you have a thoracic aortic aneurysm because symptoms often don’t show up until the aneurysm becomes large, or bursts. But, as it grows, you may start to notice some of the following signs:

  • Chest or back pain
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Hoarseness

Most people do not have symptoms unless a tear or rupture occurs. If an aneurysm ruptures one or more layers of the artery wall splits and you may feel:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the upper back that radiates downward
  • Pain in your chest, jaw, neck, or arms
  • Difficulty breathing

What to Expect

Jump Up

Depending on the size of your aneurysm and how fast it’s growing, your doctor will either decide to put you on medication or perform surgery. Medications are prescribed to lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of complications from your aneurysm.

These medications could include:

  • Beta blockers. These lower your blood pressure by slowing heart rate.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers. These are prescribed if beta blockers aren’t enough to control your blood pressure or if you can’t take beta blockers.
  • Statins. These medications can help lower your cholesterol, which can help reduce blockages in your arteries and reduce your risk of aneurysm complications.

Surgery – surgery is generally recommended if your aortic aneurysm is about 5 cm. Most patients have an open-chest surgery, and some doctors may determine if you’re a candidate for a less invasive repair that involves a catheter.

How We Treat

Jump Up

Your doctor can sometimes detect an abdominal aortic aneurysm during a routine exam. Tests such as x-rays, scans, or ultrasounds of the heart or abdomen may be ordered for a different reason and the aneurysm is found this way.

Specialized tests can be used to confirm if you have an aortic aneurysm. These tests include:

  • Chest X-Ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Computerized Tomography Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

When it comes time for treatment, the goal is to prevent your aneurysm from growing and intervening before it dissects and ruptures. Generally, treatment options include medication, monitoring, or surgery. Medications are for smaller aneurysms, while surgery is recommended for larger aneurysms. A doctor will decide the best treatment for you based on the size of the aortic aneurysm and how fast it’s growing.