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A thoracic aortic aneurysm is an aneurysm (weakened area of artery that bulges or expands) that occurs in the thoracic aorta. The thoracic aorta runs through the chest to the abdomen. The greatest concern with a thoracic aortic aneurysm is that it may rupture. Aneurysms that rupture can cause severe internal bleeding, which can be fatal. Caring for a thoracic aortic aneurysm is one of many offerings for vascular care at Ohio State.
While the exact cause is unclear, a thoracic aortic aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that damage the thoracic aortic wall. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to play an important role. Infection, injury to the thoracic aorta and genetic disorders, including Marfan syndrome, are also factors that increase the risk of developing a thoracic aortic aneurysm.
Other risk factors that contribute to thoracic aortic aneurysms include:
Many of these risk factors can be reduced or eliminated by changing your lifestyle.
Factors and conditions that can lead to weakening of the aortic walls include:
Aortic dissection is a condition that can also lead to thoracic aortic aneurysms. Dissection is linked to high blood pressure and occurs when blood flow forces a split in the layers of the aorta, weakening the aortic walls. Symptoms of a dissection include chest and/or back pain and can mimic a heart attack. If you experience symptoms, you should seek immediate medical care.
Many people with this condition don't have symptoms. In fact, a thoracic aortic aneurysm can develop, grow and go undetected for years. If there are symptoms they will depend on where the aneurysm is and its size. Symptoms may include:
If you do experience any of these symptoms do not ignore them. It is critical that you notify your physician immediately.
Your doctor may find signs of a thoracic aortic aneurysm during a routine medical exam. They are often found during tests being done for other medical conditions. Tests used to confirm the presence of a thoracic aortic aneurysm include:
Treatment of a thoracic aortic aneurysm depends on its size. If it is small and you are not experiencing symptoms, your physician may recommend monitoring its size and the development of symptoms. 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:
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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