Arteries are the part of the circulatory system that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the body’s tissues, and the aorta is the body’s largest artery. The part of the aorta that runs through the chest is known as the thoracic aorta, and the part that continues down into the abdomen is the abdominal aorta.
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in the aorta’s wall, and it can occur anywhere in the vascular tree. The bulge may take on one of two shapes:
- Fusiform: uniform and tubular, appearing along an extended section of the aorta
- Saccular: small, rounded blister on one side of the aorta; forms in a weak area of the aorta’s wall
At Comprehensive Vascular Care in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our board-certified vascular surgery team has over 20 years experience diagnosing and treating aortic aneurysms, repairing damage using the latest endovascular surgical techniques. In addition, we provide resources to our patients to reduce the risk of developing aneurysms and to protect overall vascular health. Here’s what you need to know about this serious vascular condition and how we can treat it.
The 2 types of aortic aneurysm
There are two primary types of aortic aneurysms.
1. Thoracic aneurysm
A thoracic aortic aneurysm is one that occurs in the chest region. Men and women are equally likely to be affected, with the condition becoming more common with increasing age. Thoracic aneurysms affect some 15,000 people in the United States each year.
Thoracic aortic aneurysms are primarily caused by high blood pressure or a sudden injury, though people who have inherited connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, can develop them.
Signs and symptoms of thoracic aortic aneurysm, when they occur, may include:
- Sudden sharp pain in the chest or upper back
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
You may also notice that you’re having trouble swallowing as well.
2. Abdominal aneurysm
Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) occur below the chest, and they’re more common than thoracic aortic aneurysms. AAAs are also more common in men, those 65 and older, and in caucasians.
Abdominal aneurysms are most often caused by atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), but they may also be caused by an infection or injury. Often, they don’t have any symptoms either, but if symptoms are present, they may include:
- Throbbing or deep pain in the side or back
- Pain in the buttocks, legs, or groin
While any disease or behavior that damages your heart and blood vessels (i.e., high blood pressure, high cholesterol) increases your risk for developing an aneurysm, smoking is by far the most prevalent, accounting for about 75% of all abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Complications of aortic aneurysms
The most serious complications of aortic aneurysms are aortic dissection and aortic rupture, which are life-threatening conditions.
Aortic dissection occurs when the force of pumped blood splits the layers of the aorta apart and allows blood to leak in between them. If the aneurysm bursts completely, causing internal bleeding, it’s known as an aortic rupture. Dissections and ruptures are responsible for most of the deaths related to aneurysms.
Like all types of aneurysms, you may not experience symptoms of an aortic dissection. However, if the dissection occurs suddenly, it may cause a severe, sharp, tearing pain in your chest or upper back. The larger the aneurysm, or the faster it grows, the greater the chance it will rupture. The risk of rupture increases when the aneurysm reaches about twice the normal diameter of a healthy aorta.
If you experience symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection, immediately notify your doctor immediately and make your way to the ER. Left untreated, these conditions could be fatal.
Aortic aneurysm treatments
The team at Comprehensive Vascular Care offers treatments for both types of aortic aneurysms. Typically, medications are a first-line treatment aimed at lowering blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
If you have damaged sections of your aorta that require surgery to prevent a rupture, our team has decades of experience treating complex aneurysms with open endovascular techniques. These techniques are less invasive and require only small incisions to place a graft in the aorta to stop blood flowing into the aneurysm.
In addition, our doctors work with you on lifestyle and dietary changes to prevent new aneurysms from forming, recommending treatment strategies to keep underlying conditions well-controlled. We also provide referrals for tertiary care, if required.
If you’re at risk for an aneurysm, whether you have symptoms or not, you need to be medically checked. Give our office a call at either of our locations, or schedule a consultation online with us today.