What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm is a weakened area of an artery wall that bulges or expands. Blood vessel walls can be weakened due to illness, injury or heredity. The risk of an aneurysm rupturing increases as it grows in size. A ruptured aneurysm causes internal bleeding that can lead to other serious life-threatening complications.
There are different types of aneurysms, including:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm (forms in the abdomen)
- Aortic aneurysm (forms in the aorta, the major blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the other vital organs in the body)
- Cerebral aneurysm (forms in the brain)
- Peripheral aneurysm (forms in the legs, groin, neck or arms)
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm (forms in the chest)
Caring for an aortic aneurysm is one of many offerings for vascular care at Ohio State.
While the exact cause is unclear, an aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that damage the wall of a blood vessel. The weakening of a blood vessel wall can be caused by:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Genetic disorder
Steps you can take to lower your risk of developing an aneurysm include:
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels
- Control your blood pressure
- Manage your diabetes
Aneurysms that occur within the body or brain usually do not cause symptoms before they rupture. However, aneurysms that occur near the skin's surface can often cause a visible mass that is painful and throbbing. A ruptured aneurysm is very dangerous and requires immediate emergency medical care.
Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Drop in blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Aneurysms are often not accompanied by symptoms. Because of this they are usually detected during an examination for another condition.
Tests to confirm the presence of an 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
- Ultrasound – A test that uses high-frequency sound waves and a monitor to create images of blood vessels, tissues and organs
Treatment of an 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 does not allow for endovascular repair. In this procedure, the damaged area is removed and replaced with a graft.
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.