WHAT IS AN AORTIC ANEURYSM?
Ascending aortic aneurysm
What is the Aorta?
The aorta is the major blood vessel of the body which originates from the top of the heart. It transports blood from the heart to the rest of the body including the heart itself. The aorta is the main blood vessel that travels through the chest and abdomen giving off branches to all organs.
What is an aortic aneurysm?
An aneurysm can occur in any blood vessel and is defined as a weakening of all three layers of the wall of the vessel leading to a balloon-like appearing structure. The definition of an aortic aneurysm is when the diameter of the aorta increases to twice its normal size. The normal diameter of the aorta can vary depending on it's anatomical location, gender, and age of the patient. In general, the diameter of the aorta is between 2.0 and 2.5 centimeters.
What causes the weakening of the aorta?
An aortic aneurysm occurs when there is a weakening of the layers of the wall of the aorta. The common reasons for weakening of the aortic wall are atherosclerosis, dissection, trauma, high blood pressure and connective tissue diseases. The cause of an aortic aneurysm may give insight into the natural history of the aneurysm, the likelihood of rupture and if family members are at risk for having an aortic aneurysm.
How do I know where I have my aortic aneurysm?
Aortic aneurysms are named according to the involved segment of the aorta. If you click on the 'Anatomy' section of the 'Basics' tab, you will see a figure depicting the various segments of the aorta and how aneurysms are named. Most aortic aneurysms that are discussed in this website are located in your chest, hence the term: thoracic aortic aneurysm. Nevertheless, there are aortic aneurysms which span both your thoracic and abdominal cavities.
Do aortic aneurysm expand and how quickly?
In general, it is difficult to predict the growh rate of most aortic aneurysms. The inital size, location and the patient’s other medical problems, smoking habits may influence the growth rate of aortic aneurysms. Aortic aneurysms related to an aortic dissection can expand more rapidly and develop complications. Patients with an underlying genetic connective disorder, such as Marfan and Elher-Danlos Syndrome are more likely to develop aortic aneurysms and expand quickly. In general, ascending aortic aneurysms will expand 1mm per year (.1cm/year) however, the growth of descending aortic aneurysms may be marginally greater.
Do thoracic aortic aneurysms give one symptoms?
Most aortic aneurysms do not cause symptoms until they are very large or develop a complication. As an aortic aneurysms enlarges they sometimes cause symptoms such as pressure on adjacent structures, for example, hoarseness by stretching the nerve to the larynx (around the aortic arch) or difficulty swallowing by compressing the esophagus. Most commonly, aortic aneurysms are discovered by an imaging study performed to work-up another medical condition.
Large thoracic aortic aneurysms are concerning due to the possibility of rupture or development of aortic dissection (a partial tearing of the blood vessel wall). If an aortic aneurysm tears or leaks, the patient usually experiences severe pain. A patient may experience pain if the aortic aneurysm expands rapidly. If a patient carries a diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm these symptoms should prompt immediate medical attention.