Aortic Aneurysm

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, you’ll be glad to know that the cardiac surgery team at Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular has extensive expertise in successfully managing this condition.

Here’s some information to help you better understand aortic aneurysms:

What is an aortic aneurysm?

An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body.

The aorta is shaped like a candy cane, with the short stem of the curve extending upward from the top of the heart (ascending thoracic aorta), then curving (aortic arch) downward through the chest area (descending thoracic aorta) into the abdomen (abdominal aorta). The aortic root is the section of the aorta closest to and attached to the heart; it consists of the aortic valve and the openings for the coronary arteries.

Types of aortic aneurysms

  • Thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) occur along the portion of the aorta above the diaphragm (in the chest). This part of the aorta is made up of the aortic root, ascending aorta, aortic arch and descending thoracic aorta
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) occur along the portion of the aorta that passes through the abdomen. These are far more common that thoracic aortic aneurysms, comprising up to 75% of aortic aneurysms, and are most often seen in men aged 40 to 70.

A thoracoabdominal aneurysm is a thoracic aortic aneurysm that extends continuously from the chest down to the abdominal area.

The risks of aortic aneurysms

The aorta is under constant pressure from blood pumping from the heart. With each heartbeat, the walls of the aorta expand and contract, which exerts continual stress on an already-weakened aneurysm wall.

As a result, there’s a potential for rupture (bursting) or dissection (separation of the layers of the thoracic aortic wall), which may cause life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding). People with Marfan syndrome and bicuspid aortic valve disease are at increased risk of rupture.

How aortic aneurysms are treated

The treatment of an aortic aneurysm depends on multiple factors including its size, location, how fast it’s growing and the patient’s age.

At Northwest Regional Heart and Vascular, aortic aneurysms are treated by a multidisciplinary team that includes cardiac surgery, vascular surgery and interventional cardiology. Treatment options include medical management, stent graft repair and open surgical repair. Learn more about thoracic aortic aneurysm treatment.