Aortic Aneurysm

Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning of the vessel.

Although aortic aneurysms are less common in women than in men, recent evidence from the Women’s Health Initiative indicates that smoking increases a woman’s risk eightfold. If you are a smoker and are 65 or older and/or have a history of heart disease, you should consider having an ultrasound test to determine whether you have an aortic aneurysm. It may cause few symptoms, but should be monitored regularly.

What Causes Aortic Aneurysm?

An aneurysm develops when the walls of the aorta, the body’s largest artery, become weakened due to age, atherosclerosis or high blood pressure, and a section begins to bulge outward. A thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) is in the stretch of aorta that passes through the chest; an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs below the waist. If the aorta continues to weaken, the aneurysm will grow.

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Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm

Most aneurysms don’t produce symptoms; for those that do, symptoms vary with the location and size of the aneurysm. Larger thoracic aneurysms can cause deep pain in the chest or upper back. They may also lead to coughing, hoarseness, and may make swallowing difficult or painful. Abdominal aneurysms may produce stomach or lower back pain or a pulsing sensation in the belly. Cold feet and leg pain may also be due to blood clots that break off from aneurysms and lodge in leg vessels.

A ruptured aneurysm begins with severe pain and a sudden drop in blood pressure due to internal bleeding. It can be fatal in a matter of minutes.

Diagnosing Aortic Aneurysm

Aneurysms often turn up by chance on images taken of the chest or abdomen to evaluate gall bladder disease or back pain. However, CT, ultrasound or MRI—all of which can show abnormalities in vessel size—can be used to detect a suspected aortic aneurysm.

Treating Aortic Aneurysm

Once an aortic aneurysm is detected, it should be monitored regularly by ultrasound to determine whether it is expanding.

Even if the aneurysm produces no symptoms, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to reduce the factors that contribute to it, including smoking, high blood pressure and elevated serum cholesterol.

Your doctor may prescribe antihypertensive or cholesterol-lowering medication to help. Surgery, in which the area of the vessel with the aneurysm is replaced with a synthetic graft, is necessary when the aneurysm is growing steadily or rapidly.

Nutrition and Prevention

Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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