What are aortic aneurysms?
Aortic aneurysms are an enlargement of the body’s largest artery, the aorta. There are two kinds of aortic aneurysms:
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms, which form in the chest
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms, which form in the abdomen
If ruptured, these aneurysms can cause severe, potentially fatal bleeding.
Our approach to treating aortic aneurysms is rooted in preparation. We take pride in identifying the risk of aneurysm early so that we can take careful steps to prevent rupture. Once you’ve been diagnosed, we work diligently to understand your condition, anatomy and present risk factors so that we can craft the ideal course of action. Whenever possible, this course involves a minimally invasive procedure to limit the size of incisions, post-operative pain and recovery time. Our specialists are strategic and compassionate, putting your needs and your quality of life first.
An aortic aneurysm can be frightening, but we’re here to assure you that with early detection and the right lifestyle modifications, we can significantly reduce the chance of rupture. In situations where preventing rupture is not possible, our surgeons are proficient in aneurysm repair. We perform hundreds of successful procedures on abdominal aneurysms every year.
Research at Northwell
We’re working toward developing leading-edge minimally invasive procedures every day. Our surgeons are highly involved in research to fine-tune these approaches, ranging from the creation of ground-breaking models that mimic your own anatomy to the development of algorithms to identify risk factors and the need for early intervention.
The symptoms you experience will depend on the location of the aortic aneurysm, and might include the following:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms. Most patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms have no symptoms at all. However, as the aneurysm grows, you could experience pain in the abdomen, lower back or groin, or a “heartbeat” in the abdomen due to a pulsing sensation. If the aneurysm ruptures, you might have a sudden, severe pain that mimics a tearing sensation, clamminess, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and an abnormally fast pulse.
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms. These aneurysms can cause pain in the chest or back, a cough or shortness of breath. Signs of a rupture may include a sudden, sharp pain in the upper back and pain in the chest, jaw, neck or arms, as well as difficulty breathing.
When to see a doctor
If you’re experiencing any symptoms related to an aortic aneurysm, it’s important to consult your doctor, especially if you have a family history of the condition. If left untreated, aortic aneurysms can rupture and lead to serious complications, including death. Our vascular surgeons are here to ensure you get the preventative care you need to limit that risk. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of an aortic aneurysm rupture, you should seek immediate medical attention.
The warning signs of a rupture are:
- Sudden, severe pain that mimics a tearing sensation may indicate that an abdominal aortic aneurysm has burst
- Sudden severe pain in the upper back may indicate that a thoracic aortic aneurysm has burst
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to the emergency room immediately.
Aortic aneurysms are caused by the weakening in the wall of the aorta, which causes a balloon-like enlargement in the blood vessel. While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, the following factors may play a role:
- Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries
- Traumatic injury
- High blood pressure
- Genetic pre-disposition
Inflammatory conditions, or pre-existing issues with your heart’s aortic valve can also cause thoracic aortic aneurysms.
Aortic aneurysms are closely related to atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. Additionally, thoracic aortic aneurysms are closely linked to genetic conditions, such as Marfan syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissue.
Risks factors of aortic aneurysms include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Age (often occurs in people age 65 or older)
- Development of a dissection, which is a tear in the aorta
You may be at increased risk for aortic aneurysms if you have a genetic condition, such as Marfan syndrome, or family history, and in these instances, it can occur at a much younger age.
How common is it?
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are more common than thoracic aortic aneurysms, and are more prevalent in males over the age of 65.
The main complication related to aortic aneurysms is rupture, which results in severe internal bleeding that could be life threatening. Aortic aneurysms can also lead to blood clots, which might develop in nearby areas and travel to other parts of the body. Abdominal aortic aneurysms could also lead to a blockage of blood flow to the kidneys or lower extremities, which could result in gangrene and even limb loss. Our specialists are relentless about early identification to avoid complications and protect your quality of life.
How is it diagnosed?
If several of the risk factors associated with aortic aneurysms apply to you, it’s important to inform your doctor, particularly for abdominal aortic aneurysms, which are more common. Your doctor may refer you to one of our vascular surgeons, who will use imaging technology to determine whether an aneurysm already exists or may develop.
Types of treatment
Since any incisions required are very small, your recovery process is speedy and relatively painless. In situations where a more invasive surgery like open repair is necessary, the recovery process will be lengthier and dependent on several factors, including a patient’s overall health, as well as the type and size of the aneurysm.
What to expect after treatment
Aortic aneurysms require life-long management, even if they have been repaired. Our team will make it a point to schedule regular check-ins to ensure your condition is being managed, and complications are being avoided. These follow-up appointments are key for keeping you safe and protecting your quality of life.