An aortic aneurysm occurs when a section of the aorta becomes weakened. Many times the condition is asymptomatic, although some people will experience shortness of breath, coughing spells, back pain, or tenderness in their chest. It is possible that a person won’t even realize that they have an aneurysm until it ruptures, causing sudden pain in their back, jaw, neck, chest, or arms.
While it is unknown exactly what causes an aortic aneurysm, researchers have uncovered a number of contributing factors, including atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, Marfan syndrome and other connective tissue diseases, heart-valve issues, and even traumatic injuries. People who use tobacco products or have high blood pressure are also considered at greater risk. Anyone experiencing symptoms or with a family history of aneurysms may want to consult a doctor about testing.
Testing may consist of either an echocardiogram or a chest x-ray. The doctor also may choose to perform a CT scan or an MRA. If the doctor finds that an aortic aneurysm is present, he or she will discuss the best treatment options available with the patient. Treatments range anywhere from medications to aortic aneurysm surgery.
The doctor may decide to start by prescribing medications. Some of the most commonly prescribed medications include beta blockers and statins to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. While on these medications, the doctor will continue monitoring the patient’s condition, making sure that the aneurysm doesn’t grow.
If the aneurysm grows to 5 to 6 centimeters, aortic aneurysm surgery is usually recommended. The surgery should be performed before the aneurysm becomes an emergency. The doctor will run additional tests to make sure that the patient is healthy enough for surgery. If the patient has other heart problems, the doctor may decide that it’s safer to correct those before attempting to perform aortic aneurysm surgery.
Once the doctor decides that the patient is healthy enough to go through the surgery, he or she will go over which type of surgery is appropriate for the aneurysm based on its location. The doctor might perform open chest surgery, which involves grafting a synthetic tube into the artery to replace the damaged section. This type of surgery can take a month or more to recover from fully.
Another option is to undergo a procedure known as endovascular surgery. In this procedure, doctors will send the graft through a catheter inserted through the artery in the leg. The graft fastens to the weakened area with small hooks. Recovery time with this type of surgery is much faster, however endovascular surgery cannot be performed on everyone. The doctor will discuss the best possible treatment option available.