Aortic aneurysms are normally enlarged walls of the order were bulging appears on some portion of the vascular tree. The ballooned or bulging enlargement can form as a:
- Secular Aneurysm – This tiny, lopsided blister can form on the side of the aorta and weaken an area of the wall.
- Fusiform – This affected area appears uniform in shape and will extend along the edges of the aorta.
A life-threatening aneurysm can develop along any portion of the aorta. These different developments are categorized as:
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm – The portion of the aorta running through the abdomen can develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
- Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm – An aneurysm that develops anywhere in the chest area is categorized as a thoracic aortic aneurysm that might involve the aortic arch, ascending aorta, descending aorta, or aortic root.
- Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm – Aortic aneurysms that develop in both the chest and abdomen area are categorized as thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms.
- Renal – Though rare, aneurysms can develop in the kidney.
- Visceral – Aneurysms developing in the intestines or any internal organ are called visceral aneurysms.
- Popliteal – Aneurysms can develop in the artery located in the back of the knee.
- Who's at Risk of Developing an Aortic Aneurysm?
- Common Symptoms
- Diagnosing the Condition
- Treating and Aortic Aneurysm
Who's at Risk of Developing an Aortic Aneurysm?
While anyone can develop an aneurysm at any point in their life, there are specific risk factors associated with the condition. Those most likely to develop an aneurysm include:
- Males – Research indicates that men are more at risk of developing aortic aneurysms than women.
- Age – The age of the individual plays a significant role in the development of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which can occur more often in older individuals (65 years and older) than the younger generations.
- Smoking Tobacco Products – The smoke caused by smoking tobacco products is known to weaken and damage the walls of the aorta.
- Genetic Predisposition – Individuals with a family history of aortic aneurysms tend to be at greater risk of developing the condition, especially younger in life (65 years or younger).
- Personal Medical History – Individuals who have suffered from arterial aneurysms in the leg at any point in their life are more likely to develop them in the future.
- High Blood Pressure and Atherosclerosis – These conditions and others are known to weaken the walls of the aorta.
- Bicuspid Aortic Valve – Individuals born with a bicuspid aortic valve (with two aortic valve leaflets instead of three) tend to have an increased potential risk of developing thoracic aortic aneurysms.
Other outside forces that can directly affect the development of an aneurysm include trauma and car accidents where the arteries are injured or damaged.
Many aneurysms develop and grow for years without ever affecting the body or producing any symptoms or indicators that it exists. The type of symptoms an individual will detect depends on whether the aneurysm has burst (ruptured) or has affected any area of the body. Aneurysms that grow increasingly in size can cause noticeable symptoms when they block the flow of blood or press on neighboring body parts.Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Symptoms
Most of these types of aneurysms take years to develop and are typically detected only when the doctor has felt a throbbing mass somewhere in the abdomen. When the aneurysm ruptures, the patient might experience sudden symptoms including nausea, severe pain in the back of her lower abdomen, constipation, vomiting, changes in urination, sweaty skin, dizziness, and fast heartbeats, especially when standing.
The most common abdominal aortic aneurysm symptoms involve:
- A throbbing sensation in the abdominal region
- Gnawing pain felt in the abdominal area that lasts continuously for hours or days
- Intense pain deep in the side or back of the abdomen
A thoracic aortic aneurysm growth or dissections (splits) it can bleed into the arterial wall layers and produce severe, sudden, staffing pain that begins in the upper back. The pain and will then move down into the abdomen or out to the arms and chest. Without immediate medical attention, the first thoracic aortic aneurysm can cause the individual to go into shock weekly.
The most common thoracic aortic aneurysm symptoms involve:
- Intense pain in the chest, back, neck, or jaw
- Excessive coughing
- Difficulty in breathing (shortness of breath)
- Difficulty in swallowing
Any symptoms associated with thoracic aortic aneurysms or an aortic dissection requires immediate medical attention. Because without treatment, the medical emergency can cause extensive organ damage or death.
Diagnosing the Condition
Many aortic aneurysms never display symptoms. The doctor might detect an aneurysm during routine physical examinations or when performing tests to diagnose other conditions that produce abdominal or chest pain. Usually, the patient will complain of pain in the abdominal area or display signs of a throbbing mass in the abdomen. During the examination, the doctor may press on an area that is extremely painful and very tender. However, it is hard to detect the condition by feeling a mass if the patient is overweight or obese.
Typically, the doctor will hear a rushing sound instead of whooshing sound when listening to the abdomen with a stethoscope. If an aneurysm is suspected, the doctor will likely refer the patient to a vascular or cardiothoracic surgeon for a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of the problem. A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures involving the lungs, heart, and other structures/organs of the chest. A vascular surgeon specializes in surgical procedures involving blood vessels, including aortas, though usually not those in the brain or heart.
The doctor may also recommend diagnostic tests and procedures to accurately identify an aneurysm. These procedures and tests include:
- Echocardiography and Ultrasound – These tests are simple and painless and are used to create an image through sound waves to identify structures inside the body.
- CT (Computerized Tomography) Scan – This painless test uses x-ray technology to generate detailed, concise pictures of the inside of the body especially organs, blood vessels, and tissue mass.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) Scan – Using radio waves and magnets, the machine can create three-dimensional imaging of the structure of the body and organs.
- Angiographic – This test produces images of the inside of the arteries using X-ray and dye materials and can reveal any blockage or damage to blood vessels.
Treating an Aortic Aneurysm
The most effective treatments for aortic aneurysms surgery and medications. Any tiny aneurysm detected early in life that does not cause the main never require treatment. However, if the primary health care doctor or cardiothoracic surgeon is concerned about an aneurysm they will likely take steps to:
- Prevent the growth of an aneurysm
- Prevent or reverse any damage caused to body structures
- Prevent or treat an aneurysm from bursting or rupturing
- Provide treatment that allows the patient to continue normal daily activities
Available surgical options include endovascular repair, open chest repair, and open abdominal repair surgical procedures. Doctors may prescribe calcium channel blockers and beta blockers that can relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and minimize the potential risk of bursting or rupturing an aneurysm.
The type, size, and location of an aneurysm and the speed at which it is growing will all be determining factors in how the doctor or cardiothoracic surgeon decides when it is time to repair the problem.