An aneurysm develops when the blood vessel wall weakens, then begins to balloon out from the force of blood pushing against the weak spot. Blood vessel walls may weaken from damage caused by:
If the blood vessel wall continues to weaken, the aneurysm will grow over time. When it gets too large, it ruptures or tears the blood vessel wall. This is a life-threatening emergency because it results in severe bleeding that often leads to death.
Aneurysms can occur throughout the body, including in the brain. However, they typically develop in the aorta, which is the primary artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Aortic aneurysms are named according to their location. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is in the chest portion of the aorta, while an abdominal aortic aneurysm develops in the abdomen.
Aneurysms can exist for years without causing symptoms until they rupture. The best way to protect your health is by scheduling a preventive cardiology visit.
During this preventive exam, the doctors at Consultants in Cardiology & Electrophysiology can easily detect an aneurysm in its earliest stage using ultrasound screening -- a procedure that’s available in the office.
While everyone at high risk should consider preventive screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, it’s highly recommended for men age 60 or older with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm and for men aged 65-75 who have ever smoked. While there are no existing recommendations for screening in women, if you have risk factors for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, our physicians may suggest getting an ultrasound, just to be sure.
Symptoms such as pain in the back, chest, or abdomen, throbbing in the abdomen, or shortness of breath may develop when the aneurysm is large enough to press on a nearby body part or block blood flow. A sudden, severe pain in the back and/or abdomen signals a rupture.
You may not need treatment if your aneurysm is small, but regular screenings are essential to keep an eye on the aneurysm’s growth. When treatment is needed, medications that lower blood pressure and relax blood vessels may prevent the aneurysm from getting larger. Surgery to remove the aneurysm and repair the artery becomes necessary when your aneurysm has grown to a specific size, or if you’re at risk for rupture.