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An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the aorta that forms as a result of a breakdown in the strength of the aortic wall causing a ballooning of the aorta. While all the causes are not well understood, hypertension, high blood pressure, smoking, and family history play a role in aortic disease and may result in aneurysms, dissection or rupture of the aorta.
There are various locations in the chest where thoracic aortic aneurysms occur:
Ascending Aortic Aneurysm – involves the area that extends above the aortic root and below the aortic arch.
Aortic Arch Aneurysm – involves the area of the curved portion of the aorta. This includes the connections to arteries that supply blood to the vessels of the brain and arms.
Descending Thoracic Aorta – involves the lower portion of the aortic arch and extends down to the abdomen. This includes the connections to arteries that supply blood to major organs in the area of the torso.
Abdominal Aoritc Aneurysm - involves an enlargement of the aorta, the main blood vessel that delivers blood to the body, at the level of the abdomen.
Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm – involves the area that covers the entire thoracic portion of the aorta and extends down to the abdomen. This includes many of the arteries that branch off various parts of the aorta and can be more complicated than the other types of aneurysms.
Aortic aneurysms can also occur in the abdomen. This is known as an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA). Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm involves the area below the kidneys (infrarenal) and can also involve the area above the kidneys (suprarenal).
Signs and Symptoms
Many patients with aortic aneurysms do not experience any symptoms. As the aneurysm grows, it can cause several symptoms, including:
Genetic diseases, such as a Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease, Marfan Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Loeys-Dietz, and Turners Syndrome may lead to progressive dilatation of the aorta due to abnormalities in the building blocks of the aortic wall. Many genes have been identified that are associated with aortic disease. Evaluation of immediate family members is important.