Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

Overview

A thoracic aneurysm is defined as a bulge in part of the aorta. The aorta runs from your heart through the center of your chest and abdomen and is the body’s main supplier of blood. Although sometimes asymptomatic, aortic aneurysm is a condition that can be diagnosed and treated. A ruptured aortic aneurysm will cause extensive internal bleeding that could be life threatening.

Symptoms

Thoracic aortic aneurysms have the ability to develop anywhere on the aorta, which runs from your heart, to your abdomen. Thoracic aortic aneurysms are tough to detect and equally difficult to predict. They usually grow slowly, without symptoms.

As your aneurysm grows larger, the chances increase that it will eventually rupture; however, some never rupture. As an aneurysm grows you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Tenderness or pain in the abdomen
  • Back pain or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

If you have a family history of aneurysm or are experiencing symptoms, be sure to see your doctor. Your physician may suggest regular ultrasound testing to screen for thoracic aortic aneurysm.

Causes & Risk Factors

Data suggests that certain conditions put you at a higher risk:

  • Marfan syndrome
  • Connective tissue diseases
  • Heart valve malfunction
  • Injury to the aorta

Other lifestyle risk factors are:

  • Age
  • Tobacco use
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history

If you think you may be suffering from a thoracic aortic aneurysm or are have a strong family history of the condition, make an appointment with your primary care physician.

Diagnosis

Several tests can be used to determine whether or not you have an aortic aneurysm. Your doctor may order one, or several of the following:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • CT scan
  • MRA

Also, your doctor may recommend you undergo genetic testing for Marfan syndrome, a disease that greatly raises your chances of developing an aortic aneurysm.

Treatment

The main objective for treating thoracic aortic aneurysm is to prevent it from rupturing. Depending on your aneurysms size and location, your options are medical monitoring or surgery.

Medical Monitoring

This will include regular appointments with your doctor along with frequent imaging tests to check the size of your aneurysm and the rate at which it is growing. If you have other heart or arterial conditions, your doctor may prescribe medication to mitigate symptoms.

It is imperative to discontinue all use of tobacco products after being diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.

Surgery

Surgery is usually the course of action for anyone with an aneurysm larger than about 5 cm (approximately 2.5 inches). The type of surgical procedure you receive depends on the size and location of your aneurysm and your condition.

The most common operations to repair thoracic aortic aneurysms are:

  • Open-Chest Surgery: This procedure removes the damaged portion of the aorta and inserts a synthetic tube in its place. Complete recovery from this procedure takes 4-8 weeks.
  • Endovascular Surgery: This surgery involves the insertion of a synthetic graft that is inserted through an artery of the leg and taken up to your aorta. The graft is secured at the site of the aneurysm to prevent rupture.

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