Aortic Aneurysm enlargement (dilatation)
An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement (dilatation) of the aorta to greater than 1.5 times normal size. They usually cause no symptoms except when ruptured. Occasionally, there may be abdominal, back, or leg pain.
They are most commonly located in the abdominal aorta, but can also be located in the thoracic aorta. Aortic aneurysms cause weakness in the wall of the aorta and increase the risk of aortic rupture. When rupture occurs, massive internal bleeding results and, unless treated immediately, shock and death can occur.
Screening with ultrasound is indicated in those at high risk. Prevention is by decreasing risk factors, such as smoking, and treatment is either by open or endovascular surgery. Aortic aneurysms resulted in about 152,000 deaths worldwide in 2013, up from 100,000 in 1990.
Aortic aneurysms are classified by their location on the aorta.
- An aortic root aneurysm, or aneurysm of the sinus of Valsalva.
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms are found within the chest; these are further classified as ascending, aortic arch, or descending aneurysms.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms, "AAA" or "Triple A", the most common form of aortic aneurysm, involve that segment of the aorta within the abdominal cavity. Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms involve both the thoracic and abdominal aorta.
- Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms comprise some or all of the aorta in both the chest and abdomen, and have components of both thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Signs and symptoms
Most intact aortic aneurysms do not produce symptoms. As they enlarge, symptoms such as abdominal pain and back pain may develop. Compression of nerve roots may cause leg pain or numbness. Untreated, aneurysms tend to become progressively larger, although the rate of enlargement is unpredictable for any individual. Rarely, clotted blood which lines most aortic aneurysms can break off and result in an embolus.
Aneurysms can be found on physical examination. Medical imaging is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the anatomic extent of the aneurysm. In patients presenting with aneurysm of the arch of the aorta, a common sign is a hoarse voice from stretching of the left recurrent laryngeal nerve, a branch of the vagus nerve that winds around the aortic arch to supply the muscles of the larynx.
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