Aortic Aneurysms

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Houston Methodist’s world-class specialists have expertise in the latest techniques and use the most advanced technology to diagnose and treat aortic aneurysms.
The team continues to build upon the impressive legacy left by the late Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, for whom Houston Methodist’s DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center is named, who discovered and pioneered the use of grafts to repair aortic aneurysms.


An aneurysm is a bulging (dilatation) of an artery by more than 50% of its normal diameter. Aortic aneurysms are most commonly caused by:

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the vessel wall caused by fat deposits)
  • Degeneration with age
  • Genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome

Aortic aneurysms are a type of aortic disease and there are two main types:
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms, which occur in the abdominal portion of the aorta, usually near the kidneys. Small abdominal aortic aneurysms rarely rupture, and can grow very large without causing symptoms. This type of aneurysm tends to be more common in men 65 years of age or older who have smoked or have a family history of the condition.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysms, which occur in the chest portion of the aorta — above the diaphragm. Even large thoracic aortic aneurysms do not always cause symptoms.

About Aortic Aneurysms

What Are the Symptoms of an Aortic Aneurysm?

Both abdominal aortic aneurysms and thoracic aortic aneurysms can grow quite large without causing symptoms. If you have an aneurysm, it’s possible you’ve had it for years without noticing symptoms. If symptoms do appear, the most common are chest, abdomen or back pain.

How Is an Aortic Aneurysm Diagnosed?

Since abdominal aortic aneurysms can grow quite large without causing symptoms, they are usually found during a CT scan for another condition. However, if your doctor suspects you may have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he or she can use cardiac CT scan or MRI, as well as ultrasound, to confirm the diagnosis.
Thoracic aortic aneurysms can be identified via chest X-ray or cardiac CT scan.

How Are Aortic Aneurysms Treated?

After diagnosis, your doctor may recommend steps to reduce the risk of an aneurysm rupture, including:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Taking medications to lower your cholesterol, reduce plaque buildup and manage your blood pressure
  • Frequent checkups


For large, fast-growing or leaky aneurysms, your specialized care team will use either endovascular stent grafting or open surgery grafting to repair your aorta.


Endovascular stent grafting is a minimally invasive cardiac procedure as safe and effective as open surgery, but with reduced recovery time. Our specialists use this less-invasive technique to treat both abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysms whenever possible. During the procedure, small incisions are made in the groin and a thin tube, or catheter, is used to deliver a stent graft to the weakened section of aorta. The graft is inserted into the aneurysm to reinforce the aorta and prevent rupture.


In some cases, open surgery may be required to repair your aorta. During surgery, the weakened part of your aorta is replaced with synthetic tubing. The surgical approach used varies depending on whether you have an abdominal or thoracic aortic aneurysm.


Left untreated, an aortic aneurysm can lead to:

  • Detachment of clots, which can deprive organs or limbs of blood and lead to necrosis (tissue death)
  • Dissection, which is life-threatening tearing of the aorta’s innermost lining
  • Rupture of the bulging sac, which can be fatal

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