Aortic Aneurysm - Abnormal Weakness in the Aortic Artery

General Information

An aneurysm is an abnormal dilatation (enlargement) in an artery. The dilatation occurs because of a weakness in the wall of the artery. These weak areas are subject to rupture, with disastrous consequences. Besides rupturing, these enlargements may cause pressure on other organs or on nerves, or they may develop a clot, called a thrombosis. The risk of the aneurysm varies with its location and the likelihood that it may rupture. Size is an indication of the likelihood of rupture. Larger aneurysms are at greater risk of rupture.

Aneurysms occur with increased frequency in elderly patients. The changes in arterial blood vessels that occur with aging permit the development of areas of weakness that ultimately become aneurysms. Aneurysms tend to be more likely in individuals with high blood pressure that remains uncontrolled. Aneurysms do occur in younger patients, but these are often the result of an abnormality present in the artery from birth, although a few of these may remain undetected until later years.

In elderly patients, the most common aneurysm is in the aorta, the large artery carrying blood directly from the heart to the abdomen and legs. An aneurysm in this location usually causes no symptoms, so it remains silent until rupture occurs or is pending. Because the risk for rupture is high, there is interest in repairing the damaged blood vessel by removing the weakened section and replacing it with a graft. Aneurysms may occur in the aorta as it passes through the chest and in the larger branches of the aorta. These too pose some risk, but a surgically placed graft (replacement for the vessel) can repair the weakness.

Another form of aortic aneurysm that occurs with increased frequency in elderly patients is the dissecting aneurysm. A small tear occurs in the lining of the aorta, and blood may spread up and down within the wall of the blood vessel. As this happens, the blood in the wall of the aorta may partially or completely occlude the openings of the blood vessels that branch off the aorta. This can cause stroke, loss of kidney function, or symptoms of vascular insufficiency in the limbs or other organs. Dissecting aneurysm is an emergency that usually requires treatment with surgery.

Notify Our Office If ...

  • You feel a lump that throbs in time with your heartbeat. The risk of the aneurysm varies with its location and the likelihood that it may rupture.
  • You experience sudden chest pain that does not subside. Dissecting aneurysm is an emergency that usually requires treatment with surgery.