An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning greater than 50% of the vessel's normal diameter (width). An aneurysm may occur in any blood vessel, but is most often seen in an artery rather than a vein.
An aneurysm may be located in many areas of the body, such as blood vessels of the brain (cerebral aneurysm), the aorta (the largest artery in the body), the neck, the intestines, the kidney, the spleen, and the vessels in the legs (iliac, femoral, and popliteal aneurysms). The most common location of an aneurysm is the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. The thoracic aorta is the short segment of the aorta in the chest cavity. The abdominal aorta is the section of the aorta that runs through the abdomen. An aneurysm can be characterized by its location, shape, and cause.
The shape of an aneurysm is described as being fusiform or saccular, which helps to identify a true aneurysm. The more common fusiform-shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out on all sides of the blood vessel. A saccular-shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out only on one side.
A pseudoaneurysm, or false aneurysm, is not an enlargement of any of the layers of the blood vessel wall. A false aneurysm may be the result of a prior surgery or trauma. Sometimes, a tear can occur on the inside layer of the vessel. As a result, blood fills in between the layers of the blood vessel wall creating a pseudoaneurysm.
A dissecting aneurysm is an aneurysm that occurs with a tear in the artery wall that separates the 3 layers of the wall, rather than ballooning out the entire wall.
Because an aneurysm may continue to increase in size, along with progressive weakening of the artery wall, surgical intervention may be needed. Preventing rupture of an aneurysm is 1 of the goals of therapy. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the greater the risk for rupture (bursting). With rupture, life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding), and possibly death, may result.
An aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that result in the breaking down of the well-organized structural components (proteins) of the aortic wall that provide support and stabilize the wall. The exact cause isn't fully known. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries with a sticky substance called plaque) is thought to play an important role in aneurysmal disease. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include, but are not limited to:
Other specific causes of aneurysms are related to the location of the aneurysm. Examples of aneurysms in the body and their additional causes may include, but are not limited to:
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
Atherosclerosis (especially in the segment of the abdominal aorta below the kidneys, called an infrarenal aortic aneurysm)
Giant cell arteritis (a disease that causes inflammation of the temporal arteries and other arteries in the head and neck, causing the arteries to narrow, reducing blood flow in the affected areas; may cause persistent headaches and vision loss)
Congenital (present at birth)
High blood pressure
Common Iliac Artery Aneurysm
Trauma after lumbar or hip surgery
Femoral and Popliteal Artery Aneurysm
Aneurysms may be asymptomatic (no symptoms) or symptomatic (with symptoms). Symptoms associated with aneurysms depend on the location of the aneurysm in the body.
Symptoms that may occur with different types of aneurysms may include, but are not limited to:
Constant pain in abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area
Sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness
Common Iliac Aneurysm
Lower abdominal, back, and/or groin pain
Easily palpated (felt) pulsation of the artery located in the groin area (femoral artery) or on the back of the knee (popliteal artery), pain in the leg, sores on the feet or lower legs
The symptoms of an aneurysm may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for more information.
Selection of a type of diagnostic examination is related to the location of the aneurysm. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for an aneurysm may include any, or a combination, of the following:
At Missouri Baptist, our experienced heart/lung/vascular surgeons offer complete aneurysm repair involving the entire aorta. Aneurysms are repaired by either surgical graft replacement or placement of a stent.
For more information on aneurysm treatment or to schedule an appointment, call 314-996-3627 or contact us online.