An aortic aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement or bulge in the wall of the aorta. The aorta is a major artery that runs up through the chest toward the head and then down through the chest, where it divides into a blood vessel that supplies blood to each leg.
What causes an aortic aneurysm?
The aorta’s walls are elastic, allowing it to stretch and shrink as needed. However, some medical conditions and the wear and tear that occurs with aging can weaken the wall, forcing it to stretch or bulge. An aortic aneurysm may occur as a result of infection, trauma, tearing of the artery wall, or a weakness or abnormality in a part of the aortic wall. Aortic aneurysms can occur anywhere in your aorta and may be tube-shaped (fusiform) or round (saccular).
Most aortic aneurysms occur in the section of the aorta that runs through the abdomen and are called abdominal aortic aneurysm. A thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs along the part of the aorta that passes through the chest cavity.
Aortic aneurysms are serious because they can cause the aorta to rupture, leading to dangerous internal bleeding. They also increase your risk of developing an aortic dissection: a tear in the inner layer of the aorta wall that forces the layers apart and allows blood to flow between the layers.
What are the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm?
Aneurysms can develop and become dangerous before causing any symptoms. As they enlarge, you may experience pain, cold or numbness in the abdomen, back, arms or legs.
How is an aortic aneurysm diagnosed?
Aortic aneurysms are often found when tests are done for other conditions. They can be detected during a physical examination of the abdomen or through diagnostic tests, including:
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Chest X-ray
- Computerized tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
How is an aortic aneurysm treated?
If the aneurysm is small and you aren’t experiencing any symptoms, your doctor may schedule regular screenings to monitor it. If the aneurysm is large enough or growing more than one centimeter a year, you may need:
- Abdominal or open chest surgery
- Endovascular surgery