Aortic Aneurysm

What is an Aortic Aneurysm?

An aortic aneurysm is a condition in which the walls of the main artery in the body, the aorta, become stretched or weakened. When this happens, the aorta is not able to pump blood as effectively and a wide variety of areas of the body may suffer as a result of this lack of proper blood flow.

Of course, when a person develops an aortic aneurysm, the weakened portion of their aorta bulges out and expands. This aneurysm is full of blood and runs the risk of bursting or rupturing. A ruptured aortic aneurysm is extremely dangerous as a great deal of blood loss can occur in a short period of time.

There are numerous reasons that can cause a person to develop an aortic aneurysm. High blood pressure can cause an aortic aneurysm. Some people have a congenital disorder that makes them more prone to developing an aortic aneurysm. Aging can also contribute to the weakening of artery walls as well as smoking, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular problems.

What are the Symptoms of an Aortic Aneurysm?

Many times, aortic aneurysms do not cause any symptoms at all until they rupture. However, in some cases there are symptoms.

Symptoms include

Some people experience shortness of breath, a persistent cough, feeling hoarse, or even trouble swallowing. Other symptoms of an aortic aneurysm can include pain in the chest, abdomen, back, or between the shoulder blades. And, of course, if the aortic aneurysm ruptures, the person may experience a stroke, heart attack, or they may lose consciousness suddenly.

Aortic Aneurysm Causes

An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the aorta, the main blood vessel that takes blood from the heart and delivers it to the body. The aorta is not only very elastic in order to accomplish its purpose, but this purpose causes it be about one inch in diameter. When an aneurysm occurs, that diameter can increase to more than 1.5 times its normal size. Several medical issues can cause an aortic aneurysm. Among these are high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

These are in addition to the normal effects of aging. There are also genetic factors involved in the predisposition to experience aneurysms. Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same: an aortic aneurysm can cause a blood vessel to burst, which in turn can cause death. Making matters worse, there are often no symptoms of an aortic aneurysm. They are normally discovered while an exam is being done for another problem.

How is an Aortic Aneurysm Treated?

Medication

If an aortic aneurysm is not in danger of rupture, a doctor may recommend no treatment at the time. Monitoring the aneurysm for signs of growth or trouble may be the only course of action. Medication to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol can also help to prevent aortic aneurysm growth and rupture.

Surgery

However, for larger aneurysms that are more likely to rupture, surgery may be necessary. There are different surgical procedures that can be performed. The weak portion of the aorta may be removed. A stent may be put into place to support the artery walls. Grafts, artificial implants, and valve replacements may also be options.

Aortic Aneurysm Prevention

Preventing an aortic aneurysm is the same as following a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise strengthens the heart while eating a healthy, low-fat diet, not smoking, and other factors can go a long way towards staying healthy. Obviously, there are factors involved that you cannot control. This includes aging, which can weaken heart muscles, but other preventive measures can be dramatic in offsetting these problems. It should also be noted that whenever someone has a family history of aortic aneurysms, there are tests that can be conducted to determine whether someone is susceptible.

Small aneurysms can be prevented with the use of blood pressure medications. On the other hand, large aneurysms are most often treated surgically or using other minimally invasive procedures. Without treatment, doctors will normally monitor a possible aneurysm using ultrasound or other procedures. Staying healthy goes a long way towards preventing aortic aneurysms.

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Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
June 23, 2018