Aortic Aneurysm FAQs
An aortic aneurysm is a swelling or bulge in the wall of the aorta, which extends from your heart to your pelvis.
Yes, there are three primary categories of aortic aneurysms. They are:
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms, which occur in the chest area.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms, which occur in the abdomen.
- Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms, which extend from the thoracic section to the abdominal area of your aorta.
While their exact cause is unknown, the following are associated with increased risk of having an aortic aneurysm:
- Family history of aortic aneurysms
- Smoking or significant second-hand smoke exposure
- Age (65+) and sex (assigned male at birth)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup in the aorta (atherosclerosis)
- Inflammation of, or injury to, the aorta
You may not always experience symptoms with an aortic aneurysm. If you do, these are the potential warning signs:
- Thoracic (chest): Pain in the jaw, neck, and upper back; chest or back pain; coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing
- Abdominal: Intense back or abdominal pain; rapid pulse; nausea and vomiting; excessive sweating; shock
An aneurysm can tear or rupture your aorta and lead to internal bleeding, blood clots and stroke. You may experience sudden dizziness and a rapidly increased heart rate and have to undergo emergency surgery to stop the internal bleeding.
If you have risk factors or symptoms described above discuss them with your primary care provider. They may refer you for diagnostic testing to determine whether you have an aortic aneurysm. Testing can be performed with any of the following procedures:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
Surgery may be recommended if your aortic aneurysm is above a certain size, and you have certain risk factors. Otherwise, you may be able to manage its growth with medication and lifestyle changes.
Heart surgeons, also referred to as “cardiovascular surgeons,” specialize in treating thoracic aortic aneurysms. These are said to occur in the "ascending aorta,” because this part of the aorta ascends from the left ventricle in the lower heart chamber toward the the aortic arch.
Vascular surgeons treat abdominal aortic aneurysms, or those that occur in the descending aorta, or portion running from the aortic arch down to the pelvis.