Aortic Aneurysms

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An aneurysm is a dilatation (bulging) of an artery by more than 50 percent of its diameter. Aortic aneurysms most commonly are caused by:
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the vessel wall caused by fat deposits)
  • Degeneration with age
  • Genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome

The two main types of aortic aneurysm are:
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) occur in the abdominal portion of the aorta, usually near the kidneys. Small AAAs rarely rupture, but can grow very large without causing symptoms. AAAs usually are found during CT scans for other conditions.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) occur in the chest portion of the aorta above the diaphragm. Even large TAAs do not always cause symptoms, but can be identified in chest X-rays or CT scans.
Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysms
Patients can have aortic aneurysm for years and not notice symptoms. For those with symptoms, the most common is chest, abdomen or back pain.

Complications from Aortic Aneurysms
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, life-threatening tearing of the aorta’s innermost lining
  • Rupture of the bulging sac, which also can be fatal
Diagnosis and Treatment of Aortic Aneurysms
The late Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, after whom Houston Methodist’s DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center is named, discovered and pioneered the use of grafts to repair aortic aneurysms. Today, Houston Methodist’s world-class specialists have expertise in the latest techniques to diagnose and treat aortic aneurysms. They usually rely on ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs to diagnose aortic aneurysms, which tend to be more common among men at least 65 years old who have smoked or have a family history of aortic aneurysms.

After diagnosis, physicians may recommend steps to reduce the risk of an aneurysm rupture, including:
  • Stop smoking
  • Statins to lower cholesterol
  • A baby aspirin daily to reduce plaque buildup
  • Medicine to reduce blood pressure
  • Frequent checkups

For large, fast-growing or leaky aneurysms, specialists could perform an endograft (aortic stent graft) or open surgery. During an endograft, small incisions are made in the groin, and a metallic stent attached to the end of a thin tube, or catheter, is threaded to the weakened section of aorta. The graft is inserted into an abdominal aortic aneurysm and reinforces the aorta to prevent a rupture. The procedure is as safe and effective as open surgery and reduces recovery time. Patients can be back on their feet and at work within a week, according to Houston Methodist experts. During an open operation, the surgical team opens the chest or abdomen, depending on the aneurysm’s location, to insert a graft and reinforce the aorta.
The Aortic Program, part of the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, serves the specific needs of patients living with complex aortic conditions. When aortic problems arise, patients know they can rely on Aortic Program doctors and staff for prompt, patient-focused care. Each member of our multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, surgeons, nurse practitioners and other professionals has years of experience in treating conditions specific to the aorta. Our unique combination of unparalleled expertise and advanced technology enables us to offer each patient a treatment program tailored to his or her needs.