An aneurysm is caused when there is an abnormal ballooning or widening of a part of a major artery. This could be due to a weakness in the wall of the artery. The aorta is the biggest artery in the body and is the principal blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. It originates from the heart and extends to the thorax and the abdomen. When the heart pumps out blood, this is carried by the aorta to the body organs.
There are three major organs where aneurysms can occur – the brain, thorax and abdomen. An aortic aneurysm occurs in the abdomen and thorax and it is called thoracic aortic aneurysm and abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Who are at high risk of aneurysm?
Some groups of people are more are risk of developing an aortic aneurysm than others. Those older than 60 years have a greater risk of contracting an aneurysm. An unhealthy lifestyle like smoking, obesity and a diet rich in facts can all contribute to people developing aneurysms. Those with diseases like atherosclerosis and high blood pressure suffer damage to blood vessels and hence are more likely to develop an aneurysm.
Of the two types of aortic aneurysms, abdominal aneurysms are more prevalent accounting for ¾ of aortic aneurysms. While men are more affected by abdominal aortic aneurysms, both men and women are equally affected by thoracic aortic aneurysms
Some people who have congenital birth defects that damage some parts of the artery could be prone to developing aneurysms.
Symptoms of Aneurysms
Most patients do not experience any symptoms of an aneurysm. If the aneurysm is located near the surface of the body, a throbbing mass that is painful and swollen maybe noticed
Otherwise they are often detected only when you go in for tests for some other medical condition. The danger occurs when aneurysms slowly develop over several years and suddenly rupture. Any patient who experiences the following symptoms must get immediate medical attention for they are aortic aneurysm symptoms of a rupture.
Pain: Patients experience sudden onset of pain in the abdomen or back for both thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms. The pain is sudden, severe and constant. The pain can radiate to the buttocks, groin or the legs.
Clammy skin: This is when the skin turns pale and is cool or moist to the touch. Patients can experience excessive sweating too. One clammy skin symptom is caused due to excessive pain – which can be due to a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Rapid Heart Rate: A rapid or bounding pulse occurs due to an aortic aneurysm. In such patients, bounding pulse and rapid heart rate both occur. A rapid heart rate occurs due to aortic valve regurgitation.
Shock: This is a life-threatening situation that takes place when the body does not get sufficient blood flow. This is one of the aortic aneurysm symptoms and it occurs due to a rupture of the aortic valve and its inability to pump blood properly. This results in damage to major organs and requires immediate medical attention for the symptoms can worsen rapidly.
Other symptoms of a ruptured aortic aneurysm
- Dry mouth or skin
- Excessive thirst
- Nausea and vomiting
- Patient fainting when upright
- Weariness or tiredness that starts suddenly
- Inability to concentrate
What to do?
Anyone experiencing the above aortic aneurysm symptoms must visit a doctor immediately.
Treatment of Aneurysm
Some abdominal aortic aneurysms expand at a steady rate, others rapidly and others remain the same size – all for unknown reasons. The type of treatment depends on the size of the rupture. Untreated, ruptured aneurysms cause instant death.
CAT scans, ultrasound scans and MRIs will be recommended. Non-invasive exams may also be performed as an out patient. These sophisticated imaging tools tell the doctor the size of the aneurysm. A chest CT scan and chest X-ray can demonstrate the size of the aortic enlargement. This can also reveal the exact location of the aneurysm.
Doctors may also require an aortogram that injects a special dye into the aorta and identifies the exact location and size of the aneurysm. It can also reveal if any of the connecting arteries are affected.
Generally surgery will be performed and this depends entirely on the type, location and size of the aneurysm. Hence, some patients will undergo an endovascular stent repair. A stent is a small tube that is used to support a blood vessel or to strengthen its walls. This procedure is performed without a big cut and patients recover quickly from this type of stent repair surgery. However, not all candidates can undergo a stent repair.
Larger aneurysms may require a surgical repair and this will be performed unless the patient also has other medical conditions that prevent such a surgery. When surgical repair of an aneurysm is done, a portion of the aorta that is ruptured will be replaced by a synthetic graft. If the surrounding (iliac) arteries are involved, the synthetic graft extends to these also. If the aneurysm goes above the renal arteries, a bypass graft will be created or the arteries will be re-fixed into the graft. Since most patients with aneurysms also suffer from atherosclerosis, surgical repair could be risky.
If the surgery is a success, then recovery is excellent.
There are certain complications that arise with aortic aneurysms as with other aneurysms. These include compression of the surrounding nerves that cause numbness and weakness, infection that leads to the entire body getting affected and rupture that causes massive bleeding and ultimately death. Massive bleeding usually takes place when you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Prevention and Precaution of aneurysm
Since there are no specific aortic aneurysm symptoms, (both thoracic and abdominal), only changes in lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing any form of aneurysm (unless it is a congenital defect). This includes eating a heart-healthy, low fat diet, exercising regularly and above all quitting smoking. The last factor is contributory to a host of illnesses including aneurysms and quitting can lower your risk considerably.