Aortic aneurysm, as the name suggests, happens in the aorta. It is typically linked with the hardening of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. This condition may be inherited or a result of complications of high blood pressure or smoking. Aortic aneurysms are small bulges in the wall of the aorta or the artery, the major blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. They occur when part of a blood vessel’s wall weakens and grows into an adjoining blood vessel, typically the abdominal aorta. A tear in this weakened area allows blood to escape from it. This is known as an aortic dissection. The most common location for an aortic aneurysm is at or near the top of the aorta (where it connects to other arteries). But they can also occur lower in the thorax, where there are fewer blood vessels. In general, if you have one, you have one, but they can be associated with other conditions such as Marfan syndrome, hypertension, and trauma.
What Causes Aortic Aneurysm?
A weakening of the aorta or aortic wall causes an aortic aneurysm. The most common causes are atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. This happens due to a combination of factors such as ageing, certain genetic disorders, certain drugs, or certain types of trauma. Aortic aneurysm is not the same as aortic stenosis, which is when there is constriction of the aorta due to the narrowing of the aortic wall. An aortic aneurysm can be classified by its level in the blood vessel into high, middle, and low categories. The risk of an aneurysm rising to a high category is higher in men than women. High-risk aneurysms are more likely to rupture than low-risk aneurysms.
Types of Aortic Aneurysms
Aortic aneurysms be classified by their size into small, medium, and large categories. The most severe threat of an aneurysm is that it can burst and cause a stroke or massive bleeding, which in either case is life-threatening. A large aneurysm can affect blood circulation leading to blood clots.
Symptoms of Severe Aortic Aneurysms
The symptoms can range from mild to severe, sometimes none at all. But some people are at higher risk of getting one, so routine examinations can help early detection of warning signs.
It’s important to see your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden and tearing pain
- Pulsating sensation
- severe chest pain,
- trouble breathing,
- coughing up blood,
- Lump near a blood vessel
- a new bulge in your abdomen, or
- a sudden change in your heart rate.
- Aortic regurgitation, when the regurgitation of blood from the aorta causes backflow into the chest. This symptom can be mild or severe.
- Aneurysm rupture can cause a person’s abdomen to swell or even to rupture severely, causing severe abdominal pain, tenderness, and swelling.
Diagnosis of Severe Aortic Aneurysms
Aneurysm is generally detected by an echocardiogram, which is a type of ultrasound that can reveal the size and shape of the aorta, and if an aneurysm is present. Blood tests can also show an increase in certain proteins that can be present if the aneurysm is large enough to cause blood loss. In a medical diagnosis, your doctor will ask questions on the following,
- If there is a family history of heart disease
- Complete physical examination of checking your blood pressure, feel the abdomen for a lump/mass
- If your doctor suspects an aneurysm in the aorta, you will be asked to get an ultrasound test to measure the aneurysm.
- If the doctor thinks the aneurysm is in the chest then a CT scan or an invasive test called an angiogram will be recommended.
Treatment of Severe Aortic Aneurysms
Treatment depends on the severity of the aneurysm. An aneurysm can be life-threatening if it ruptures. If you have an aortic aneurysm and it’s large enough to cause symptoms, treatment is aimed at reducing the size of the aneurysm and keeping the aorta open as much as possible. The aim of the treatment is to stop bleeding, reduce pain and preserve the remaining aorta. Sometimes, surgery is always not possible as it can be more dangerous than the aneurysm itself. Your doctor will examine the size, type, and location of the aneurysm and determine the best treatment,
- Inoperable aneurysms – drugs will be prescribed to lower your blood pressure or ease the force of your heartbeats to reduce any chances of a rupture.
- Operable aneurysms – your doctor will try medicines and monitor the progress of the condition. If the aneurysm gets dangerously large, then you may require surgery. In some cases, the aneurysm or section of the artery is removed and replaced with a synthetic graft.
The aneurysm repair aims to strengthen the aortic wall to prevent it from weakening again. An aneurysm repair is usually done under general anesthesia.
Prognosis of Severe Aortic Aneurysms
Generally, people with small aneurysms are not expected to have problems. Most people with aortic aneurysms are expected to have a normal lifespan and not experience any problems with their aorta. However, 10% to 15% of people will have an aneurysm that is large enough to cause significant symptoms, like significant pain or severe swelling. And 1% of people will have a rupture of the aneurysm.
As you now know, an aortic aneurysm is a condition in which part of your aorta – the major blood vessel that carries blood from your heart to your body – becomes enlarged. Call the doctor immediately if you think you may have an aneurysm because if that ruptures, it can be life-threatening. At best, to prevent an aortic aneurysm, you can control your blood pressure, and should you have a family history of heart disease or stroke, then bring changes to improve your health and lifestyle by exercising regularly, watching what you eat, and completely stopping smoking.
What are the early symptoms of aortic aneurysm?
Early symptoms of aortic aneurysm include a pulsating feeling in your stomach and nagging back pain.
How serious is an aortic aneurysm?
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body which runs from the heart through the center of the chest and abdomen. Therefore, a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding.
Can a person survive an aortic aneurysm?
Some aortic aneurysms are hereditary or congenital, such as bicuspid aortic valve, infection, or inflammatory conditions. You can live with an aortic aneurysm. There are many ways to prevent dissection or a rupture with periodic examinations, medications, and interventions of healthy food and lifestyle.
What happens when you have an aortic aneurysm?
When you have an aortic aneurysm, there will be a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy. This can get bigger over time and could burst (rupture), causing life-threatening bleeding.
What should you not do with an aortic aneurysm?
Your doctor will advise you to avoid heavy lifting and intense physical activities, which can increase blood pressure, putting additional pressure on your aneurysm.
Can you fully recover from an aortic aneurysm?
Typically, you will need 2 to 3 months to fully recover from an aortic aneurysm and be able to resume many of your usual activities after 4 to 6 weeks.