A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a weakening of the upper aorta, which is the large blood vessel that sends blood to the rest of the body. The condition is sometimes called thoracic aneurysm and aortic dissection (TAAD) due to the possibility of an aneurysm causing a tear within the artery wall that can lead to life-threatening bleeding. Thoracic aortic aneurysms may be small and grow slowly, or they can be large and fast growing. Large ones are more likely to rupture.
Aneurysms can appear anywhere on the thoracic aorta. Several factors can contribute to its formation, including hardened arteries, various genetic and medical conditions, untreated infections, issues with the aortic valve, and traumatic injury. Patients with a bicuspid aortic valve, a connective tissue disease like Marfan syndrome, or a family history of aortic aneurysm are more likely to encounter the condition and should consider regular exams and screenings.
Patients with a slow growing thoracic aortic aneurysm may go for years without any symptoms. As it grows, they are likely to experience:
Some people may notice nothing amiss unless a tear or rupture appears. When this happens, common symptoms include difficulty breathing, a sudden sharp pain in the upper back, and pain in the neck, chest, arms, or jaw.
How a thoracic aortic aneurysm is treated depends on its size and how quickly it is growing. Large and fast growing aneurysms will likely need surgery to repair the damaged blood vessel. Small aneurysms that are not likely to rupture are typically treated with blood pressure medications to lessen the stress placed on the aortic wall. If surgery is not done, routine ultrasounds are recommended to monitor whether the aneurysm is getting any bigger.