An aortic aneurysm occurs when a section of the aorta enlarges in comparison to the surrounding aorta. As the thinning, bulging section of the aorta grows, the patient's risk of a life-threatening rupture increases. During aneurysm surgery, the diseased section of the artery is replaced with either prosthetic material or tissue harvested from a cadaver. In all cases, diseased tissue is replaced by healthy tissue or artificial material.
Aortic aneurysm can involve a single section of the aorta, several small sections, or the entire aorta. Because the aorta spans most of the human body, treatment for aortic aneurysm is based on the location and cause of the aneurysm.
The main causes of aortic aneurysms include: high blood pressure, traumatic injury, or genetic conditions, such as Marfan syndrome. Different causes lead to different treatment paths.
At the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care, aortic surgeons examine the circumstances surrounding each patient's aneurysm and individualize treatment options about the best way to approach the aorta. At the Heart and Vascular Center, therapy is based on the specific needs of the individual.
Once formed, aneurysms can continue to grow until they rupture. Because of the high volume of blood pumped through the aorta, a ruptured aortic aneurysm can cause hemorrhaging so severe that patients often don't have time to get to the hospital.
An undetected aortic aneurysm can be dangerous. The vast majority of aneurysms do not cause any noticeable symptoms. In rare cases, patients will experience pain at the site of the aneurysm. If the aneurysm has grown large enough, it can press against neighboring organs. For example, an aneurysm pressing against the windpipe might make it difficult for a patient to breathe. If the aneurysm puts constant pressure against tissue-the lung or the esophagus, for example-a connection between the tissue and the aorta may eventually form, causing internal bleeding.
However, warning signs such as these are rare-the vast majority of aneurysms are diagnosed incidentally. Generally, doctors diagnosis aneurysm when a patient gets a chest X-ray, a CT scan or an angiography for another reason entirely.
Finding an aneurysm during a procedure for another medical need can be a traumatic experience. But patients who know they have an aneurysm are empowered to make a preemptive strike against a silent killer. When the aneurysm is situated in the portion of the aorta running through the abdomen, corrective surgery is successful 90 to 95 percent of the time. When the aneurysm is situated in a portion of the aorta closer to the heart, the Heart Center's success rate climbs to 99 percent.