Damage to the walls of the aorta can lead to greater risk of internal bleeding.

The aorta is the body's largest blood vessel. If a section of this large artery forms an aneurysm and ruptures, you will have life-threatening internal bleeding. If the weakened area is large, the risk of rupture is greater. When an aortic aneurysm is detected before a problem develops, physicians will monitor its growth. If they determine that it is rapidly growing or large enough, they may decide to treat it surgically or with stent grafting.

Aortic aneurysms most often occur in the abdomen as an abdominal aortic aneurysm, but can also occur in the upper chest as a thoracic aortic aneurysm.

Causes

While the exact cause is unclear, an aortic aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that damage the aortic wall. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to play an important role. Infection, injury to the aorta and genetic disorders, including Marfan syndrome, are also factors that increase the risk of developing an aortic aneurysm.

Other risk factors that contribute to aortic aneurysm include:

  • A family history with the disease
  • Being male
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated fats in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Older age (over 45 for women, over 55 for men)
  • Smoking

Many of these risk factors can be reduced or eliminated by changing your lifestyle. Medical professionals recommend that men older than 60 who have ever smoked should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm with a simple ultrasound test.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a growing aortic aneurysm can include pain in the abdominal area, groin or lower back. Many aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic, meaning that the patient often does not experience noticeable symptoms prior to the detection that an aortic aneurysm is present.

Why choose Ohio State for aortic aneurysm treatment?

The vascular surgeons at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center have extensive experience with traditional open repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms, including repair of complex cases. We also are expert at minimally invasive repairs, and have experience in the use of all of the available stent graft technologies available to treat a wide variety of aneurysms. Our participation in national clinical trials helps direct the development of the next generation of stent grafts for the treatment of aneurysms.

Diagnosis

When an aortic aneurysm is detected, it is usually incidental during an examination for another condition. Tests to confirm the presence of an aortic aneurysm include:

  • CT scan (computed tomography scan) – An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the body, including bones, muscles, fat and organs
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – A noninvasive, sophisticated imaging procedure that uses large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures inside the body

Treatments

Treatment of an aortic aneurysm depends on its size and the symptoms an individual may be experiencing. The goal is to prevent the aneurysm from ever rupturing. Medication to control high blood pressure and to lower cholesterol may be prescribed. Surgery may also be indicated.

There are generally two types of aneurysm repair surgeries:

  • Endovascular repair makes use of a catheter that guides a stent graft through small incisions in the groin. The graft is inserted into the aneurysm and seals the aneurysm from within.
  • Open surgical repair of the aneurysm may be recommended if the anatomy of the aneurysm prevents endovascular repair. In this procedure, the damaged area is removed and replaced with a graft (tube).

A ruptured aneurysm is a very dangerous condition. Although it is possible to repair a ruptured aneurysm surgically, it is important to identify and treat aneurysms before a rupture occurs.  

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