What is an Aortic Aneurysm?

Amy Hunter

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge that develops in the aorta, the largest artery in the body. While an aortic aneurysm may burst, causing serious health problems, it is also possible for an aneurysm to be in the aorta without rupturing. Many people mistakenly believe that an aneurysm refers to the actual event of a rupture.

Smaller aneurysms may be diagnosed by an EKG.
Smaller aneurysms may be diagnosed by an EKG.

Smaller aneurysms are generally monitored by a physician. They can be diagnosed and monitored using a variety of diagnostic tools, such as an x-ray, EKG, MRI or CT scan. If the physician notices the aneurysm getting larger, he may recommend treatment. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the greater the likelihood is that it may burst.

A diagram of the aorta. Aneurysms in the aorta can be extremely dangerous.
A diagram of the aorta. Aneurysms in the aorta can be extremely dangerous.

Aortic aneurysms are most commonly located in the area below the kidneys. In this location, an aneurysm is called an abdominal aneurysm. If the aneurysm is located higher up, in the chest cavity, it is called a thoracic aneurysm.

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A medical professional examines a chest X-ray for indications of an aortic aneurysm.
A medical professional examines a chest X-ray for indications of an aortic aneurysm.

There are a variety of reasons that someone may develop an aneurysm. They include genetic factors and weakness in the artery caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis weakens the artery when fatty deposits in the blood build up on the artery walls.

If an aortic aneurysm bursts, it is a medical emergency. The main symptom of a burst aneurysm is severe pain. Debilitating pain should send you to the closest emergency room. Successful treatment of an aneurysm is largely dependent on how quickly the patient receives care.

Doctors can repair a burst aortic aneurysm by sewing in a piece of artificial blood vessel. This closes off the aneurysm and strengthens the arterial wall so that it will not burst again. While this is delicate surgery, the prognosis can be good with prompt medical treatment. The most important thing a physician must do when repairing a burst aortic aneurysm is to stop the flow of blood into the abdominal or chest cavity.

People often don’t realize that they have an aortic aneurysm until is bursts. Aneurysms often don't cause any symptoms before they burst. If you have a family member with an aortic aneurysm or you have heart problems that are associated with atherosclerosis, such as high cholesterol, you may want to talk to your doctor about a screening. If your doctor believes that you may suffer from an aortic aneurysm, he or she can conduct a screening test to look at your aorta and detect weak areas. If any are found, regular monitoring will let you know if it begins to swell.

An MRI may be used to diagnose an aortic aneurysm.
An MRI may be used to diagnose an aortic aneurysm.

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Discussion Comments

parkthekarma

As a paramedic, the majority of aortic aneurysm ruptures I saw were abdominal. The symptoms are different, and people seem more likely to blow them off than the classic chest pain. Not that people are all that good at dealing with chest pain either.

A lot of times the abdominal aneurysms feel like really bad back pain, but different than muscle pain. When it starts to tear, the pain often gets too bad to ignore. It can be treated, but it's another thing you have to catch in time. If the aneurysm ruptures, it would be really hard to get you in and opened up in time before you bled out.

It's unfortunate that these things still happen. You would think that with all of the medical technology out there today, they would be caught and fixed sooner.

winslo2004

Things like this are another reason that nobody should ignore chest pain. If you catch something like this early enough, it can be a relatively simple procedure to fix. If you let it go longer, it can turn into a much bigger problem with many more complications. If you let it go indefinitely, it can kill you. Personally, I would prefer to handle it quickly.

So many times, people have chest pain and don't do anything about it. Either they are busy, or they are in denial, or they say it is heartburn, or whatever. I have seen it many times at the hospital where I work. Put off doing something for years, and then finally they have the "big one" and it really complicates their health, if they even live.

horsebite

There are very few good places to have an aneurysm, and the aorta is not one of them. It is the largest blood vessel in your body, and if it ruptures you can die really fast.

My mother had this happen to her about 15 years ago, but she caught it before it burst. Her aortic valve was very damaged, and the aorta itself had a large aneurysm. She now has a synthetic aorta for several inches, and a mechanical valve. Her health has never been the same.

In her case, if she had not caught it before it burst she would have died almost instantly because the aneurysm was so large. She was in the hospital for weeks, and she is very lucky to be alive.

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