The aorta is the main vessel of the human body providing blood to all organs. An aortic aneurysm is a "ballooning" in this main blood vessel that can lead to rupture or dissection.

Each year, 15,000 Americans die due to ruptures of these aneurysms, often without ever having symptoms. Another 100,000 are diagnosed before rupture, typically as the result of an incidental imaging procedure.

The incidence of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) has increased substantially in recent decades.

What is an Aneurysm?

An aneurysm arises when part of an artery wall weakens, then expands. Aneurysms can happen anywhere in the body, but usually occur in your aorta, the main artery that ships blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The stomach is the most common site, where the condition is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Aneurysms also may occur in the brain (cerebral), behind the knee (popliteal artery), intestines (mesenteric artery), the spleen (splenic artery) or the chest (thoracic artery).

Types of Aortic Aneurysms

An aneurysm can occur anywhere in the aorta. There are three types of aortic aneurysm:

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

Occurs in the section of the aorta that runs through the abdomen.

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm (TAA)

Occurs in the section of the aorta that runs through the chest.

Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm (TAAA)

Occurs in sections of the aorta that are in both the abdomen and the chest.

Causes of Aortic Aneurysm

Some aneurysms are congenital (present at birth), while others may be caused by injury or aortic disease. Conditions including COPD, atherosclerosis or a lower-extremity occlusion can also lead to an aneurysm.

Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysms

Aortic aneurysm symptoms vary, depending on the location in the aorta. Aneurysms can develop slowly, over many years, and may not cause any symptoms.

When an aneurysm ruptures, you will experience pain, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, clammy skin, rapid heart rate, shock or plunging blood pressure. This is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 to seek prompt attention if belly or back pain is extreme and unrelenting.

Symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA):

  • A pulsating feeling near the belly button
  • Deep pain in the abdomen
  • Deep pain on the side of the abdomen
  • Back pain

Symptoms of thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA):

  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Coughing
  • Difficulties swallowing or breathing
  • Neck swelling
  • Pain in the chest, shoulder, neck, jaw or upper back
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate

Risk Factors for Aortic Aneurysm

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help reduce the risk of developing an aortic aneurysm. Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking (past or present)
  • Obesity
  • Emphysema
  • Male gender
  • Family history
  • Advanced age

Diagnosis of Aortic Aneurysm

Imaging exams are used to diagnose aortic aneurysms:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Angiography of aorta
  • Chest X-ray
  • Chest CT scan
  • Intravascular ultrasound
  • Diagnostic angiogram
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram

Surgery and Treatments of Aortic Aneurysm

Small aneurysms may not need surgical treatment, and your physician may recommend monitoring with regular imaging tests. Medications to slow aneurysm growth may also be recommended.

If the aneurysm expands to a large enough size, surgery may be necessary.

Thoracic endovascular aortic repair (TEVAR)

The minimally invasive TEVAR procedure reinforces the weakened portion of the aorta to reduce the risk of rupture. A small incision is made and a stent-graft is inserted into the diseased portion of the aorta. The stent-graft will remain in place to strengthen and support the aorta.

Endovascular abdominal aneurysm repair (EVAR)

The minimally invasive TEVAR procedure reinforces the weakened portion of the aorta to reduce the risk of rupture. A small incision is made and a stent-graft is inserted into the diseased portion of the aorta. The stent-graft will remain in place to strengthen and support the aorta.

Open aneurysm repair

During this complex surgical procedure, your surgeon makes an incision in the chest and/or abdomen to remove a weakened section of the aorta and replace it with a fabric tube called a graft. The graft is stronger than the weakened aorta and allows blood to pass through it without causing a bulge.

Scheduling an Appointment

Treating and repairing aortic aneurysms requires highly trained specialists who are experienced with the latest surgical techniques. The Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute has demonstrated successes with these surgeries, and has produced many positive outcomes. Find and schedule an appointment with one of our affiliated physicians.

Contact Us

If you have questions regarding the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, our cardiologists, or treatment facilities, please use our contact form below or call (713) 222-2273 for more information.

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