An aneurysm is a weak area in the wall of a blood vessel that causes the blood vessel to bulge or balloon out. When an aneurysm occurs in the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, it is called an aortic aneurysm.
Aneurysms can occur in other parts of the body as well. Common locations include the brain (brain aneurysm), behind the knee in the leg (popliteal artery aneurysm), the intestine (mesenteric artery aneurysm), and the artery in the spleen (splenic artery aneurysm).
The aorta runs from your heart through the center of your chest and abdomen, carrying oxygen-rich blood away from your heart and to the rest of your body.
An aortic aneurysm can occur anywhere along the aorta. The 2 most common types of aortic aneurysms are:
- Thoracic: occurs near the heart in the chest
- Abdominal: occurs below the heart in the abdomen
Although aortic aneurysms develop slowly over several years, they can be a sudden, serious health risk. Because the section of the aorta with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, it can rupture. A ruptured aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding, because the aorta is the body's main supplier of blood.
Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms
Most people with aortic aneurysms do not have symptoms until the aneurysm begins to leak or expand. Symptoms often begin suddenly when the aneurysm grows quickly, tears open (rupture), or leaks blood within the wall of the vessel (aortic dissection).
If an aortic aneurysm ruptures, you may experience severe pain, a sharp drop in blood pressure and signs of shock. A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency, and you should seek medical assistance right away.
Aortic Aneurysm Diagnosis
Because they form slowly and often without symptoms, most aneurysms are found during a physical exam or an imaging test done for other reasons.
At Wake Forest Baptist Health, our physicians will use the following imaging tests to monitor your aneurysm and establish a diagnosis:
- Cardiac MRI
- Diagnostic catheterization
- Vascular ultrasound
Aortic Aneurysm Treatment
Once an aortic aneurysm is found, our physicians will closely monitor it so that surgery can be planned if necessary. Most small and slow-growing aortic aneurysms don't rupture. Large, fast-growing aortic aneurysms may need close management by your physician. Depending on the size and rate at which the aortic aneurysm is growing, treatment may vary from watchful waiting to surgical intervention.
Different types of surgery may be used, depending on where the aneurysm is located and your physician’s assessment of your condition:
- Open Repair
- Endovascular Surgery
Heart and Vascular Center
Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center combines cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to patient- and family-centered care. At the Heart and Vascular Center, our philosophy is clear: patients come first. We offer the latest in technology, devices and medication combined with personalized care, to offer life-changing vascular and heart disease treatments.