An aortic aneurysm is a bulging or ballooning area in the wall of the aorta, the body's largest blood vessel which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The aorta's walls are naturally elastic, allowing them to absorb the pumping force of the heart. When the aorta's walls become weakened or damaged, the aorta's ability to withstand this force decreases and the walls may bulge or expand. When the bulge exceeds 1.5 times the normal size, the condition becomes an aortic aneurysm.
More than 15,000 people die from an aortic aneurysm each year, and the condition causes more than 60,000 hospital stays annually. Aneurysms tend to occur more commonly in people over the age of 50, and more often in men than women. Risk factors for an aortic aneurysm include smoking cigarettes now or in the past, or having a relative who has been diagnosed with the condition.
The most common site for an aneurysm to form is in the abdomen. While an abdominal aortic aneurysm may cause back or abdominal pain, most people with an aortic aneurysm do not experience any symptoms before the aneurysm bursts. After a rupture, most patients die before getting to the emergency room, making early detection critically important.
For patients seeking diagnostic services or treatment for an aortic aneurysm, the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) provides expert care with the most advanced techniques in a state-of-the-art medical center.
The Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital is a Boston cardiology and vascular care facility offering the most advanced cardiovascular care in the New England area. The Center's Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery is equipped with the latest technology and staffed by physicians and caregivers who are experts in their field. Patients at the Center can count on the most innovative vascular surgery techniques and comprehensive vascular disease treatment for a wide variety of conditions, including an aortic aneurysm.
Treatment for aortic aneurysm at the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center includes controlling blood pressure through medicine, ceasing cigarette smoking, and monitoring the aneurysm with periodic scans. Physicians may also recommend surgery to repair the aneurysm. There are two types of abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery practiced today:
A traditional open surgery is a major surgical procedure performed through an incision in the abdomen. The aneurysm is repaired using an artificial graft to replace the diseased segment of the aorta.
A minimally invasive surgery is available to certain patients. This procedure accesses the diseased aortic tissue from the inside through catheters inserted through incisions in the groin. Surgeons deploy a cloth sheath with aortic stent grafts above and below the aneurysm to protect the aneurysm from the pressure of pulsing blood. The procedure has a much shorter recovery period than traditional surgery.