Aortic aneurysms are enlarged blood vessels in the chest area, usually near the heart, that have been weakened by degenerative changes due to aging or high blood pressure.
Aneurysms can be congenital or develop over time; those that develop over time are more common.
They can become life-threatening when they rupture and spill blood into the chest cavity, which causes life-threatening complications like heart attack, stroke and death.
Aortic aneurysms are serious and require prompt treatment to prevent rupture and improve the chances of survival after it does occur.
What is an aortic aneurysm?
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the aorta. This bulge can be caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or aging.
The aneurysm causes the aorta to weaken over time until it ruptures or bursts open. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
When the aneurysm ruptures, this leads to severe abdominal pain which radiates from your chest down into your back. You may also feel dizzy and lightheaded due to a decrease in oxygen levels.
There are three ways for doctors to diagnose an aortic aneurysm: physical exam, CT scan or MRI scan.
Treatments vary depending on size of the tumor and its location but may include surgery to remove the tumor and repair damage to the artery if possible.
Surgery will likely be performed if the aneurysm is large enough that it could burst at any moment, rupture with activity like coughing or bending over and end up having the body’s organs spilling out.
Smaller aneurysms that are not as dangerous may only require treatment with drugs called anticoagulants that keep blood from clotting and increasing the risk of bleeding during surgery.
Signs and symptoms of an aortic aneurysm:
Some of the signs and symptoms of an aortic aneurysm include chest pain that may be sharp or dull in nature, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.
Other symptoms include dizziness or lightheadedness that can lead to fainting. There may also be a sudden loss of consciousness from which there is no return.
Lastly, fever is sometimes seen with an aortic aneurysm as well. The person should go to the emergency room right away if they experience any of these symptoms.
An electrocardiogram may be done on occasion if other warning signs exist (such as heart palpitations). Sometimes ultrasound imaging is used to find out for sure if there is a ruptured aneurysm.
If this test is inconclusive, then surgery will be needed to make a diagnosis.
If the diagnosis confirms that an aortic aneurysm has ruptured, then surgery will be needed immediately in order to minimize blood loss and prevent death.
Causes of aortic aneurysms:
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the aorta. It may or may not rupture. When an aortic aneurysm ruptures it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
There are many potential causes of this condition including high blood pressure, smoking, atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls), and connective tissue disorders.
In most cases, no underlying problem is found to be causing the aneurysm. The best treatment for an unruptured aortic aneurysm is to make sure the patient’s blood pressure is well controlled.
For those with symptoms of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, surgery may be necessary to repair it.
An aortic aneurysm is a weakening of the artery wall that can cause it to rupture. The aneurysm can also put pressure on your heart or other organs.
Risk factors for an aortic aneurysm include age (the risk increases with age), smoking (the risk is increased two-fold in smokers), high blood pressure, family history of the condition, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Smoking cigarettes is linked to approximately 15% of all cases of ruptured aortic aneurysms. When not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle, angina may occur.
The most common symptom associated with a ruptured abdominal aneurysm is sudden severe abdominal pain, typically just below the rib cage and/or in one side.
Diagnosing aortic aneurysms:
The definitive diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm is made by catheterization with angiography.
The procedure involves inserting a tube called a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin, threading it up to the aorta via the iliac arteries in the pelvis, and injecting dye through it.
The dye causes blockages to show up on an X-ray as white areas. An MRI can also be used for diagnosis. It is safer than catheterization because there are no needles involved.
Doctor inserts a small imaging device that produces cross-sectional images of the area in question and looks at them on a computer screen.
It is painless, but sedation may be necessary if the person being examined has difficulty lying still or relaxing during the examination.
Angiography may still be needed if there are any questions about what doctors see on their screen or when they want to make sure they have found all signs of disease.
Treatments for aortic diseases:
The most common treatment for an aneurysm is surgical intervention to repair the damaged aorta.
The goal of this surgery is to remove the aorta from the danger zone and to reinforce it with either a graft or expandable stent.
Other treatments include medications such as anti-coagulants and blood thinners that help limit damage by preventing clots from forming in the heart.
Occasionally, a doctor may use balloon angioplasty to open up narrowed arteries, which can then be fixed with a stent.
Finally, endovascular stenting can be used if patients are at risk of stroke due to blockages in the neck vessels.
Complications from other disorders or infections:
Aortic aneurysms are caused by a weakening of the walls of the aorta. Other disorders or infections that weaken the walls of the aorta can also lead to aneurysms.
Smoking is one risk factor for this condition because it damages the elasticity of your blood vessels.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) may cause blockages in your arteries, which could lead to aneurysms in some cases.
You should consult your doctor if you have any new signs or symptoms that worry you such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal pain.
Your doctor will examine you and order any appropriate tests needed to diagnose the problem and rule out other possible causes.
If you have chest or abdominal pain that feels like pressure or squeezing, it’s important to see a doctor right away. Your doctor will take your medical history and do a physical exam. The most effective treatment for an aneurysm is surgical repair of the weakened area of the aorta.
Open surgery can be performed through a large incision in the abdomen or smaller cuts at the base of the rib cage. There are also less invasive surgeries such as endovascular stent grafting, where a tube with scaffolding inside is placed in the blood vessel to close off or reroute blood flow around the diseased part of an artery.