What is an Enlarged Aorta?

Jason C. Chavis

As the largest artery in the body, the aorta is responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood from the heart's left ventricle through the diaphragm and into the abdomen. Branching off from the aorta is a number of smaller blood vessels responsible for blood flow to the kidneys and other digestive organs. Near the bottom of the torso, the aorta divides into two arteries that feed blood to the legs.

A diagram of the aorta.
A diagram of the aorta.

In the event of damage or hardening, an aneurysm can develop which creates weak spots around the vessel's wall. These aneurysms are essentially bubbles that are capable of bursting, sending blood outside of the chamber and into the body. This can occur at any point along the aorta and poses a serious health concern for an individual.

People who smoke are at greater risk for developing an enlarged aorta.
People who smoke are at greater risk for developing an enlarged aorta.

An enlarged aorta is defined by its location on the blood vessel, the size of the bubble and what shape it takes. It is possible for the aorta to become enlarged in all directions or simply develop a small bulge on one side of the blood vessel. A variety of symptoms develop, which can inform a person if they are suffering from an aortic aneurysm. The most prevalent of these is a strong feeling of pressure or pain in the chest and back.

An MRI can be used to diagnose an enlarged aorta.
An MRI can be used to diagnose an enlarged aorta.

Disease is the most common cause of an enlarged aorta. Various cardiovascular conditions can cause small tears in the aorta known as dissections. When these occur near the heart, a person's life is threatened and emergency surgery is required immediately. Tears in other parts of the aorta can be treated using blood pressure medications and continued medical observation.

A CT scan is a diagnostic tool that can be used to diagnose an enlarged aorta.
A CT scan is a diagnostic tool that can be used to diagnose an enlarged aorta.

An aortic aneurysm can also be caused by an injury in which a person is in motion and suddenly comes to a full stop. Car accidents, plane crashes or a significant fall are generally the prime culprits in this situation. If an individual is impacted by any of these risk factors, having a physician monitor the situation is generally a standard practice.

Other risk factors include people suffering from tissue connectivity disorders, problems with the bicuspid valve, atherosclerosis, inflammatory conditions, Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Individuals with high blood pressure are also prime candidates for an enlarged aorta. All of these risk factors rise with the use of tobacco products.

Doctors define the level of aortic dilation by the size of the ballooning. By assessing the size and weight of an individual and determining the enlargement of the aorta, a physician can make a more informed procedural analysis. When the physician finds that a section of the aorta becomes more than two times the size of the rest of the vessel, they can assume that a person's life is in serious risk.

Diagnostic tools designed to check for an enlarged aorta include computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Other tests, including the adenosine thallium myocardial viability test, can show the likelihood of pre-existing coronary artery problems. A simple health analysis also works as a screening process to determine likely candidates. Issues such as weight and overall cardiovascular and respiratory health are strong indicators of a possible aortic enlargement.

Plane crashes are one of the prime causes of an aortic aneurysm.
Plane crashes are one of the prime causes of an aortic aneurysm.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Can you fly if you have aortic aneurysms?


If you think you are just double jointed or even if you have just a few joints that extend beyond normal range, then you need to see a geneticist to rule out a connective tissue disorder. They will send you for an echocardiogram.

I only scored a 5 on the beighton scale. I was diagnosed along with my three children with Ehlers Danlos type 3. My brothers and sister are now having to be tested too. I have an enlarged aorta that is now considered an aneurysm. My surgery is scheduled in two days. I also just learned my daughter and son have an enlarged aorta as well. This has become a very serious issue in my family.


A doctor told me that my two year old's aorta is a little small, but they will watch him and not to worry, that he should grow out of it. Is that true or should i get him looked at somewhere else?


My husband has survived one aortic annureysum but now has an enlarged and dilated aortic artery plus kidney blockage and a failing kidney. He is being closely monitored but we worry all the time.-- caad


The brother of someone at my school just died of his aorta bursting. he had complained of chest pains the night before and the next day he literally dropped dead.


My mother recently went to her GP and was rushed into hospital, the next day she had a pacemaker fitted. She has to go back to hospital for a CT scan in a couple of weeks because they have said she has an enlarged aorta.

We are now worried because she has been having headaches etc, been to the docs again and has high blood pressure, which she has never suffered with in her life, and they have put her on medication.

Do you think she should be seen by the hospital sooner and are they all linked?


I have already had an aortic valve replacement and aneurysm and now my doctor says I have another enlarged aorta. Should I be concerned about this?


My six year old old grandson is being tested for Marfan's Syndrome. An echocardigram showed an enlarged aorta. I know this can be a sign of Marfan's. What does this mean in terms of his heart health? They are trying to get him into a cardiologist. Is this life threatening?


Does anyone know if there are any recgonizable symptoms to alert someone this might be a problem?


You're right teresa. My father and two (maybe even three) of his brothers had aortic aneurysms. My one uncle died in his 50s and the cause was a sudden fatal heart attack. Now we wonder if he didn't have an aneurysm and it blew. His sister did get checked, but didn't have one.

I get checked by the dr. and keep my fingers crossed.

Are there any men out there who have survived this?


Not that it does not happen in women, but men tend to be more prone to this condition, and the highest incidence occur later on in life.

Post your comments
Forgot password?