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What Is an Aortic Aneurysm?


Friday, September 18th, 2015

Your aorta is your largest blood vessel, bringing blood from your heart to all other areas of your body. An aortic aneurysm develops when the wall of your aorta weakens and bulges or balloons outward. This can be life-threatening, especially if the aneurysm bursts.

Below, you can learn about the signs of this condition and what you can do to lower your risks.

What Is the Aorta?

Your aorta is the main blood vessel that brings oxygen and nutrients to your legs, pelvis, and abdomen. It is shaped like a cane and comes out from your heart, down through your chest, and into your abdomen (the lower part of your belly).

Types of aortic aneurysms

There are two types of aortic aneurysms:

  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA), which happens in the part of your aorta in your chest. This can include the ascending aorta (the short stem of the cane), the aortic arch (the cane handle), and the descending aorta (the longer stem of the cane).
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which happens in the part of your aorta in your abdomen.

What Are the Symptoms of an Aortic Aneurysm?

Aortic aneurysms usually develop over many years. In most cases, there are no early warning symptoms of its development. As such, it’s important to understand your risk factors, and to talk with your doctor about whether you should be screened for an aneurysm.

In some cases, symptoms can occur.

Thoracic aortic aneurysm symptoms

Symptoms of TAA can include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Back pain
  • Shortness of breath

Abdominal aortic aneurysm symptoms

Symptoms of AAA can include:

  • A pulsing feeling near your belly button, like a heart beat
  • Severe pain in your abdomen or back that comes and goes

If an aneurysm bursts, it can cause massive internal bleeding, which can be deadly. A burst aneurysm is a medical emergency, so if you think you or someone else has this condition, call 9-1-1 right away.

Who Is at Risk for Aortic Aneurysms?

Aortic aneurysms usually happen in men over 60, but other risk factors can include:

To help lower your risks, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. Your doctor may also put you on medicine to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Are There Treatments for Aortic Aneurysms?

Early diagnosis can save your life, so talk with your doctor about your risks and what tests you might need. Once you’re diagnosed, your doctor may recommend treatment based on the aneurysm size and location, as well as your medical history and other risk factors.

  • Smaller aneurysms may be watched with regular follow-up visits to your doctor, ultrasound tests, and lifestyle changes, like quitting smoing or medicines to lower high blood pressure.
  • Larger aneurysms may need surgery to repair before they burst.

To schedule an appointment for an evaluation, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at 412-802-3333.

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Heart and Vascular Institute

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care — with a rich history in clinical research and innovation — the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of personalized cardiovascular services. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the United States, UPMC has made significant contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine. Read More