An aneurysm is a bulge or "ballooning" in the wall of an artery. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. If an aneurysm grows large, it can burst and cause dangerous bleeding or even death. Most aneurysms are in the infrarenal aorta (aorta below the kidney). The aorta is the largest artery in the body that runs from the heart’s left ventricle through the chest and down to the abdomen. There are two types of aortic aneurysms:
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms which occur in the part of the aorta that runs through the chest
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms which occur in the part of the aorta that run through the abdomen
Aortic aneurysms may be caused by several risk factors:
- Smoking is the biggest risk factor contributing to aortic aneurysms
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which weakens artery walls
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure, which puts stress on the aortic wall that can lead to bulging of the blood vessel wall
- Injury to the chest or abdomen that causes damage to the aorta, as in a car wreck or bad fall
- Congenital abnormalities such as Marfan syndrome or bicuspid valves present at birth that cause weakness of the artery walls
Some people are at a higher risk for aneurysms so it is important to know the risk factors. These include individuals who:
- Are 55 year of age or older
- Are male
- Have high blood pressure
- Have inherited diseases that cause weakening of the blood vessels
- Have a family history of aortic aneurysm
- Have atherosclerosis
Individuals at higher risk for aneurysms should be screened regularly because aneurysms can develop and become larger before symptoms appear. Imaging tests are used to find aneurysms and most are found during tests performed for other reasons. Screening is recommended for individuals between 65 and 75 years of age if they have a family history, or are men who have smoked. Medications and surgery are the two main treatment options.
For information about aneurysm treatment options at Tampa General Hospital’s Cardiovascular Center Aorta Program or to refer a patient, call (813) 394-5554 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
To transfer patients after business hours, call the TGH Transfer Center at 1-800-247-4472.