Overview of Aortic Aneurysm

When the wall of an artery becomes thin and weak, it can stretch and bulge like a balloon. This weakened area is called an aneurysm. When it happens in the aorta, it's called an aortic aneurysm.

The aorta is the main artery out of your heart and an aortic aneurysm is a dangerous condition. If it grows large enough or weak enough, the artery wall can tear (dissection) or rupture, leading to life-threatening bleeding.

Aortic aneurysms are associated with and may be caused by the following conditions:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Coronary Artery Disease (atherosclerosis or clogged arteries)
  • Bicuspid Aortic Valve
  • Connective Tissue Disorder and Blood Vessel Complications (including Marfan syndrome)
  • Family history of aneurysm

Aortic aneurysms are classified by location in the body. Thoracic (chest) aneurysms can be ascending (just above the heart) or descending (in the back of the chest, near the spine). Abdominal aneurysms are located in the belly, below the diaphragm. Aneurysms that extend from the chest into the abdomen are called thoracoabdominal aneurysms.

This image shows an aortic aneurysm that is thoracic (in the chest) and ascending (just above the heart).

Diagnostic Tests for Aortic Aneurysm

Your doctor may order one or more tests to diagnose aortic aneurysm. The tests listed below create images that reveal the aneurysm's size, location, and severity.

  • Peripheral Vascular Disease

    This test is an ultrasound of the veins and arteries in your body. It produces an image of your aorta using sound waves. During the study, a technician will take measurements across the length of your aorta to look for enlarged sections.

  • CT (Computerized Tomography)

    This test creates very detailed images of the structures in the body, including your heart and aorta. The CT scanner takes many pictures from different angles by rotating an X-ray tube around the body.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

    During an MRI, you lie in a chamber surrounded by a magnetic field. The magnetic force triggers signals from your body’s tissues that a computer then records. The computer uses these recordings to produce high-quality images of your heart and aorta.

  • Genetic Testing

    If aortic aneurysms run in your family, it is important to tell your doctor. There are several genetic disorders that can contribute to aortic disease, including Marfan syndrome and Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. The Genetic Heart Disease Program at the Heart Institute can help you and your family members explore genetic testing, family planning, and treatment options.

Your Treatment Options for Aortic Aneurysm

Evaluating your treatment options is the first step in living a long and healthy life with aortic disease. Your care team will develop a personalized plan that accounts for your age, medical history, overall health, and the location and severity of your aortic aneurysm.

  • Careful Monitoring

    Your doctor will ask you to come in every few months for an imaging test, like a CT scan. This allows your doctor to keep an eye on your aneurysm and observe how fast it is growing. When an aneurysm approaches 5 cm in diameter, we recommend surgery in most cases.

  • Blood Pressure Medications

    Your doctor may prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure. This will reduce the strain on the weakened area of your aorta and potentially slow the growth of the aneurysm.

  • Cholesterol Medications

    Your doctor may also prescribe medicines, called statins, to lower your cholesterol. These will help maintain the overall health of your blood vessels.

  • Limiting Physical Activity

    Your doctor will recommend that you limit your physical activity because of your aneurysm. This may include avoiding heavy lifting and strenuous exercise.

  • Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm Repair

    Thoracic aortic aneurysm repair is an open-chest surgery, where a surgeon removes the enlarged section of the aorta and replaces it with a tube, called a graft.

  • Thoracic Endovascular Aortic Repair (TEVAR)

    TEVAR is a less invasive surgery that repairs the aorta using a flexible, metal coil covered by cloth, called a stent-graft.

Learn about Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

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