8 Things to Know About Aortic Aneurysms

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Diana Rodriguez on December 12, 2020
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    What to Know About Aortic Aneurysms
    An aortic aneurysm is a bulge that forms in your aorta. That's the long blood vessel that moves blood from your heart to different parts of your body. A bulge can form if the wall of the blood vessel is weak. An aortic aneurysm is a serious medical problem. Here's what you need to know about this threat to your health.
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    1. There are two types of aortic aneurysms.
    An aortic aneurysm can form in two areas along the aorta. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is one that forms in your chest. One that forms below the chest area is an abdominal aortic aneurysm. There are other differences too. Men are more likely than women to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Thoracic aortic aneurysms tend to affect both sexes equally. However, both types are more common with advancing age.
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    2. Aortic aneurysm symptoms vary.
    Some people have an aortic aneurysm but don't know it. These bulges don't always cause symptoms, especially when they're small. A thoracic aneurysm can cause hoarseness, coughing and trouble swallowing. Serious symptoms include sharp back pain between the shoulders. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms have no symptoms until they burst. If you do have symptoms, they may include pain in your legs, buttocks, back or side. Signs of a bursting aortic aneurysm include lightheadedness and severe back or belly pain that comes on suddenly.
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    3. An aortic aneurysm can be a life-or-death emergency.
    An aortic aneurysm can burst. That's a rupture. Sometimes it can cause the layers of the wall of the artery to separate. That's a dissection. Both are very serious and can lead to death. There's also the chance of blood clots forming in the area of an aortic aneurysm. If a clot breaks loose and travels elsewhere in the body, it can block a blood vessel. That can be very dangerous.
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    4. Know your risk factors.
    Certain common health conditions can increase your risk of an aortic aneurysm. These include high cholesterol and high blood pressure. High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, another serious risk factor. That condition develops when plaque forms on the lining of your blood vessels. This makes them rigid. Work with your doctor to treat these conditions through medication and lifestyle changes. Smoking is also a serious risk factor. Men who have ever smoked should get an aortic aneurysm screening after age 65. If you still smoke, quitting will reduce your risk of aortic aneurysm.
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    5. Aortic aneurysms can run in families.
    You're more likely to develop an aortic aneurysm if other family members have had them. It's not clear why this is the case. But it's especially true for thoracic aortic aneurysms when certain genetic diseases run in your family. These include Marfan syndrome and related conditions like Loeys-Dietz syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome as well as Turner syndrome. Talk with your doctor about screening tests for aneurysms if these diseases or aneurysms themselves are part of your family history.
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    6. There are also rare causes.
    Doctors don't always know what actually causes an aortic aneurysm to develop. There are a few possible culprits. These include peripheral vascular disease, congenital connective tissue disorders, and even some types of infections. Some inflammatory diseases can cause an aneurysm too. These include certain types of arteritis, which is inflammation in key arteries. A traumatic injury, like a car accident or a serious fall, is another possible cause, though this is rare.
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    7. You might not need treatment.
    Sometimes you need surgery to repair an aneurysm and stop it from rupturing. Your doctor may recommend this if an aneurysm is very large. If the bulge is small, your doctor may suggest different steps to try to prevent a rupture. You may need to take medication, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol drugs. Sometimes doctors recommend just watching the aneurysm through regular appointments and tests to see whether it grows. These tests can include a CT scan, echocardiogram, and magnetic resonance angiogram, which is a special type of MRI.
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    8. Know emergency warning signs.
    An aortic aneurysm rupture or dissection is an emergency. Symptoms include severe belly and back pain and feeling lightheaded. You may have a bulge in your abdomen that seems to be beating (pulsating).  Look for signs of stroke, such as weakness on just one side of your body or having trouble talking. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these signs. You may lose consciousness if you have an aneurysm emergency, so make sure that loved ones know these signs, too.
8 Things to Know About Aortic Aneurysms

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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 12
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