Aortic Aneurysm



The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body and is similar in size to a large garden hose. It wraps around the heart and travels down through the chest (where it is known as the thoracic aorta) into the lower abdomen (where it becomes the abdominal aorta). Along the way, the aorta gives rise to blood vessels that supply circulation to all parts of the body. An aneurysm is a progressive weakening and ballooning of a section of the blood vessel wall, and when the blood vessel grows to greater than 1.5 times its normal size, it is called an aneurysm. If undiagnosed and untreated, an aneurysm can rupture, resulting in catastrophic internal bleeding and death.

Normal Aorta vs. Aortic Aneurysm

Signs & Symptoms:

  • You may experience no symptoms and learn you have an aortic aneurysm in the process of being tested for other reasons.
  • If you have a family history of AAA and feel sudden, severe pain in your abdomen or back, seek immediate care.
  • Pain, discolored skin, sores on feet and toes.

Risk Factors:

The risk factors for developing AAA include older than 60 years of age, tobacco use, family history of aneurysms, history of heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and peripheral arterial disease.

Smoking has been shown as an independent risk factor for developing an AAA. The relative risk of developing an AAA was fivefold higher for smokers than nonsmokers. Aneurysms tend to run in families. First-degree relatives of an individual with an AAA are 3-5 times more likely to develop an AAA.

The overarching take-home message is simple: The only way to avoid these catastrophic aortic emergencies is to be aware of your risk factors (older than 60 years of age, family history of aneurysms, tobacco use, history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or peripheral arterial disease) that might predispose you to develop an aortic aneurysm and talk to your doctor about a simple, non-invasive test that can help detect these potentially deadly conditions.

If an aneurysm is diagnosed, consult with a vascular surgeon about risk factor modification and treatment options, and talk to your family, as aortic aneurysms are hereditary.