An aortic aneurysm is an abnormal bulge that occurs in the wall of the major blood vessel (aorta) that carries blood from the heart to the body. Aortic aneurysms can occur anywhere in the aorta and may be tube-shaped or round.
There two types of aortic aneurysm: abdominal aortic aneurysm and thoracic aortic aneurysm.
In some cases, an individual may have both. Having an aortic aneurysm increases the risk of developing an aortic dissection. An aortic dissection occurs when a tear develops in the inner layer of the wall of the aorta. This causes one or more of the layers of the wall of the aorta to separate, which weakens the wall of the aorta. Aortic aneurysm also increases the risk of aneurysm rupture.
Aortic aneurysms often cause no symptoms at all, but if present, symptoms include:
- Tearing pain in the chest, abdomen, and/or middle of the back between the shoulder blades,
- Shortness of breath, hoarseness, cough, and difficulty swallowing,
- Rupture of an aneurysm can cause loss of consciousness, stroke, shock, or a heart attack.
The symptoms of aortic aneurysm may also include:
- Low blood pressure
- Sudden, intense and persistent abdominal or back pain
- Pain that radiates to the back or legs
- Fast pulse
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
Thoracic aortic aneurysms are much less common than abdominal aortic aneurysms. They are often caused by an abnormal breakdown of the elastic fibers in the aortic wall. These are the causes:
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis),
The leading risk factors for an aortic aneurysm are:
- Being over 65 years old,
- Being male,
- High blood pressure,
- Family history of aortic aneurysms in first-degree relatives (parent, brother, or sister),
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are about 5 times more common in men than in women.
Tears in the wall of the aorta (dissection) are the main complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm. A ruptured aortic aneurysm can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding. In general, the larger the aneurysm, the greater the risk of rupture.
Another complication of aortic aneurysms is the risk of blood clots.
Here are a few tips to reduce the risk of an aortic dissection:
- Control blood pressure,
- Don't smoke,
- Maintain an ideal weight.
If you have a genetic condition that increases the risk of aortic dissection, the doctor may recommend medications, even if the blood pressure is normal.