Aortic Aneurysm: All You Need to Know

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If you’re in your mid-forties chances are high when it comes to getting a heart disease. In fact one of the more common heart problems is arterial blockage.

Heart diseases have become very common among the older population and are resulting in more deaths than ever. Aortic aneurysm, the condition where the aorta enlarges close to 1.5 times than its normal size is another common heart disease. Found either in abdomen or thorax, the condition weakens the walls of aorta leading to an impending rupture and in most cases, death. The year 2013 has seen as many as 152,000 deaths with aortic aneurysm.

Aortic Aneurysm
Front view of abdomen and kidneys comparing a healthy abdominal aorta with an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)

What is Aortic Aneurysm?

The enlargement or dilation of aorta, body’s main artery to 1.5 times its normal is known as aortic aneurysm. Aorta is responsible for carrying the oxygen of the blood to all parts of the body and the weakening of which could be life threatening. The dilation of this nerve results in the weakening of the walls around aorta and overstretching of the same. The bursting of these walls results in a lot of internal bleeding and can lead to death.

The two common types of aneurysm

All sections of the aorta are vulnerable to the aneurysm, however, the two most common places in the body where the aortic aneurysm can happen are abdomen and thorax. The two types of aneurysm, thus, are,

  1. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: The abdominal aortic aneurysm leads to increase in the diameter of the aorta around abdomen to over 3 cm. This length is 50% larger than its usual size and could be diagnosed with constant pain in the areas around abdomen. One can feel pulsating sensations and pain around chest, lower back, and even scrotum apart from the abdomen. This type of aortic aneurysm is usually treated with a surgery.
  2. Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm: The thoracic aortic aneurysm refers to the dilation of aorta around the thorax, above the diaphragm of human body. Less common than the abdominal aneurysm, the risks are higher for this condition. The treatment involves cutting off the aorta and reducing its size to less than 4.5 cm.

Causes of Aortic Aneurysm

Aorta is traditionally very elastic in nature to allow optimum blood flow to the various body parts. However, with age issues like high blood pressure can lead to hardening of the arteries of one’s body. This condition is known as atherosclerosis and weakens the walls of the arteries and thus, could be a plausible cause for the aortic aneurysm. Apart from this, an infection, high cholesterol, and traumatic injuries could also be potential causes for this condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm

The symptoms of the aortic aneurysm generally show up very late in the disease and thus, need to be treated immediately. In many cases, the symptoms aren’t recognized unless the aneurysm bursts. Thus, most doctors only discover it during regular examinations or tests like X-ray, CT scan, and ultrasound. However, some signs become more noticeable as the aneurysm grows larger. These signs are:

  • Severe pain in chest and back
  • Difficulty in breathing and swallowing food
  • Shortness of breath very quickly
  • Hoarseness and Coughing

Treatment of Aortic Aneurysm

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not smoking is recommended by the doctors to avoid aneurysm in their lives. The condition can also be genetic and thus, one is always advised to get checked if anyone in their family has had an aneurysm, especially in cases for thoracic aneurysm.

The other options

The treatment of the aortic aneurysm first relies on figuring out how big it is and then devising a plan for its treatment based on the same. Most aneurysm which are small are treated with medicines that control high blood pressure, which helps in reducing the stress on aortic walls. Smaller aneurysms rarely burst but are needed to go under regular ultrasounds too keep check on their size. If the aneurysm is big and growing fast, it needs to be treated with a surgery which involves repairing the damaged blood vessel.


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