An aortic aneurysm occurs when a balloon-like bulge develops in the wall of the aorta: the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart. This artery has thick walls that can withstand normal blood pressure. Under certain conditions, such as medical issues, genetic factors, or trauma, the walls may become weak or damaged, making them susceptible to aneurysm.

Aortic aneurysms call for prompt medical attention. Should they become too large, they can burst, becoming life-threatening.

What Are the Types of Aortic Aneurysm?

There are two types of aneurysms that can develop in the aorta: abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA). An abdominal aortic aneurysm is more common and develops in the stomach region. Thoracic aortic aneurysms develop in the part of the aorta that runs in the chest.

Although the causes of an aortic aneurysm are often unknown, factors such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), injury, and infection can play a role in their development. Certain inherited conditions affecting connective tissue, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome, may also cause an aortic aneurysm.

In addition to these direct causes, certain populations are more likely to develop them. People who smoke, are over the age of 65, have a family history of aortic aneurysms, or have high blood pressure may have a greater risk.

What Are the Signs of An Aortic Aneurysm?

In many cases, people with an aortic aneurysm don’t know they have it. Symptoms often don’t develop until the aneurysm bursts, at which point it’s considered a medical emergency requiring immediate care. As the aneurysm grows, however, certain symptoms may develop, such as shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and chest or back pain.

When an aortic aneurysm ruptures, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the chest, upper back, neck, or arms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty swallowing

If these symptoms develop suddenly, it’s important to call 911 immediately.

In many cases, aortic aneurysms are detected during tests conducted for other reasons. With that in mind, screening is available for early detection, which is often recommended for people between the ages of 65 and 75 who have a family history or have smoked.

How Is an Aortic Aneurysm Treated?

The treatment for an aortic aneurysm depends on the stage at which it’s detected. If it’s found before it’s grown too large, medication to lower blood pressure may be used to reduce the risk of a rupture. 

If a larger aortic aneurysm has been detected, surgery may be recommended for removal. There are several surgical approaches used, including abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) open repair, open-chest surgery, and the less-invasive endovascular surgery approach. The surgical approach will depend on the patient’s health and any preexisting conditions, as well as the location of the aneurysm. 

When an aortic aneurysm ruptures, it requires emergency open-chest surgery. For this reason, identifying and treating aortic aneurysms with preventive surgery or lifelong monitoring are the safest approaches.

Vascular Surgical Associates provides the highest quality vascular care and treatment available. If you’ve been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, we can discuss treatment options and help you make an informed decision. Find out more about how we help patients navigate this condition or schedule an appointment by calling (770) 423-0595.