an aortic aneurysm is a weakened and bulging area in the aorta, the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body.
The aorta, about the thickness of a garden hose, runs from your heart through the center of your chest and abdomen. Because the aorta is the body's main supplier of blood, a ruptured aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding. Although you may never have symptoms, finding out you have an aortic aneurysm can be frightening.
Most small and slow-growing aortic aneurysms don't rupture, but large, fast-growing aortic aneurysms may. Depending on the size and rate at which the aortic aneurysm is growing, treatment may vary from watchful waiting to emergency surgery.
Once an aortic aneurysm is found, doctors will closely monitor it so that surgery can be planned if it's necessary. Emergency surgery for a ruptured aneurysm can be risky.
Aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and usually without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms will never rupture. Many start small and stay small, although many expand over time.
Some aortic aneurysms enlarge slowly, increasing less than half an inch (1.2 centimeters) a year. Others expand at a faster rate, which increases the risk of rupture. How quickly an aortic aneurysm may grow is difficult to predict.
As an aortic aneurysm grows, some people may notice:
- A pulsating feeling near the navel, if the aneurysm occurs in the abdomen
- Tenderness or pain in the abdomen or chest
- Back pain
Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the aorta, but most occur in the abdomen and are called abdominal aortic aneurysms. Aneurysms that occur in the part of the aorta that's higher up in your chest are called thoracic aortic aneurysms.
When to see a doctor
You should see your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.
Anyone age 60 and older who has risk factors for developing an aortic aneurysm should consider regular screening for the condition. Men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm using abdominal ultrasound. Men age 60 and older with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm should also consider screening.
If you have a family history of aortic aneurysm, your doctor may recommend regular ultrasound exams to screen for aortic aneurysm