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.
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.
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.
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.
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.