Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection

Your aorta is normally very elastic, but sometimes it can weaken.

An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge that occurs when the pressure of blood passing through part of a weakened artery forces the vessel to enlarge. Aneurysms can occur anywhere along your aorta – the body’s largest artery – but they usually form in the section that moves through your stomach (abdominal aortic aneurysm), or your chest (thoracic aortic aneurysm).  

You should routinely be checked for abdominal aneurysm if you are a man age 65 to 75 years old who smoked at any time in your life.   

Aneurysms are often asymptomatic. Not all aneurysms are life-threatening, but over time as the artery stretches too far, the vessel may tear, which may be suddenly fatal. Conditions that affect and weaken the aorta include smoking, high blood pressure, family history of aneurysm, connective tissue disease, heart valve disease, pregnancy and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  Screening exams are important in detecting this serious and silent disease.

Aortic dissection is an emergency that happens when the layers of the wall of the aorta separate or tear. Blood surges through the tear, causing the layers to separate further. If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection can be fatal.

Some Symptoms Include

  • Tearing chest, back, or stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or passing out
  • Weak pulse
  • Stroke-like symptoms

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