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Aortic Aneurysm


To clarify, what exactly is an aortic aneurysm? An aortic aneurysm is a bulging out of the normal caliber of the aorta, the main artery coming from the heart and going down along the spine just behind the back of the abdominal wall. To emphasize, two main risks are smoking and high blood pressure, both of which accelerate arteriosclerosis and lead to a softening of the wall of the aorta.

To explain, as the aortic wall gets soft with a loss of supportive elastic fibers and a breakdown of the lining, a bubble of the diseased aortic section forms, which at one point ruptures suddenly. In general, most of the aortic aneurysms form in the aortic section underneath the level where the kidney arteries branch off and the bifurcation into the iliac arteries at the pelvic floor.

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm


For one thing, the cardinal symptom for a developing aortic aneurysm is abdominal pain. Specifically, as the aorta is situated so far in the back, the piercing deep pain is often felt in the lower back region and might be mistaken for lumbosacral, musculoskeletal pain.

Truly, there may be a new pulsating feeling deep in the mid abdomen. Indeed, often the physician can gently verify through palpation that this actually is so. Certainly, the pain tends to be steady and the location of the pain is dictated by the location of the aneurysm. For example, it would be in the central region of the abdomen, but can be in the epigastric region (upper mid abdomen), in the mid abdomen or in the suprapubic area (lower mid abdomen). By all means, it is important both for the physician and the patient not to rest until the cause of the pain has been identified. In fact, this might be the patient’s only chance for survival as a ruptured aorta has a high mortality rate through internal bleeding.


For one thing, the key investigation is to order an abdominal ultrasound right away. Notably, it can help in sizing the aneurysm. To be sure, occasionally the physician orders a CT scan or MRI scan in addition, but often this is not necessary. Certainly, what is necessary is that a cardiovascular surgeon assesses the patient.

In this case, the specialist may order abdominal aortography, an X-ray procedure where a catheter is introduced through a needle into the femoral artery and advanced into the aorta.

Frequently a contrast material can give a clear picture of the exact formation of the aneurysm. It is important to realize the after this the cardiovascular surgeon will then know exactly what section needs to be removed. Surgery on an emergency basis for an aortic dissection or ruptured aneurysm has a mortality risk of 50%. However, if the patient reports the early symptoms of an aneurysm earlier, the patient’s mortality risk from an elective surgical procedure to repair the aortic aneurysm is only 2 to 4 %. Here is a link to a site with images and information about surgery for aortic aneurysms. There are newer endoscopic procedures where the Seldinger technique is used to place a stent to overbridge the aneurysm.



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Last modified: March 30, 2020

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.