What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm occurs when part of an artery wall weakens. In the weakened spot, an abnormally large bulge develops. The bulge can rupture and cause internal bleeding. The cause of an aneurysm is not always known. Some may be caused by aortic disease or injury, while some causes are congenital, meaning people are born with them.
Types of aneurysm
Aneurysms can occur anywhere, but the most common types are:
An aortic aneurysm occurs in the main artery that carries blood to your body. The aorta has a thick wall but trauma or certain conditions can weaken part of the wall. When that happens, the force of the blood can cause an aneurysm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm can grow so big that it splits or ruptures. A split is called a dissection. Splits and ruptures are life-threatening.
Aortic aneurysms can be treated with medicine to slow their growth or with surgery to repair them if they are found before they rupture. Unfortunately, aneurysms often grow to a large size before they are detected. There are two types of aortic aneurysms:
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: This is the most common place for an aortic aneurysm to occur
- Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm: This is a less common type of aortic aneurysm that occurs in the chest area
Risk factors for aortic aneurysm include:
- High blood pressure
- Hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis
- Inflamed blood vessels
- Infection in the aorta
- Trauma such as a car accident
- Smoking, which is the greatest risk factor
- Age over 65
- Being male
- Being white
- Family history of aneurysms
- Previous aneurysms
Cerebral aneurysms usually occur at the base of the brain just inside the skull. Aneurysms can range in size from one-eighth of an inch to one inch. Most cerebral aneurysms do not cause symptoms until they rupture. Some symptoms that can occur include:
- Pain above and behind the eye
- One side of the face being paralyzed
- Dilated pupil
- Vision changes
Risk factors for developing a cerebral aneurysm include:
- A close family member with an aneurysm
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Stimulant drug abuse, especially cocaine or amphetamines
- Age over 40
- Head trauma
- Brain tumor
- Cigarette smoking
Mesenteric artery aneurysm
Like other aneurysms, mesenteric artery aneurysms often have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe abdominal pain after eating
- Bloody bowel movements
- Constipation or diarrhea
Some symptoms may indicate that a mesenteric artery aneurysm is expanding quickly and may rupture. You should seek emergency treatment for the following symptoms:
- Sudden, persistent, and intense abdominal or back pain that feels like a tearing sensation
- Pain that radiates to the back of your legs
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness and clamminess
- Nausea and vomiting
Risk factors for developing a mesenteric artery aneurysm include:
Diagnosis of aneurysm
Your doctor will listen to your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. Imaging tests will be needed to confirm a diagnosis of an aneurysm. Your doctor will order an angiogram, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or an ultrasound to diagnose you.
Treatment for aneurysm
A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you think you may have one. An unruptured aneurysm may require monitoring and medication.
Your doctor may also need to do surgery to repair an aneurysm by reinforcing the artery wall with a stent. If the aneurysm has ballooned out, the procedure may involve closing off the area with a coiling procedure.
Possible complications and side effects
Ruptured aneurysms can result in death. There are risks associated with surgery to repair an aneurysm as well. These risks include:
Surgery is generally done when the risk of the aneurysm rupturing outweighs the risks of surgery.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Heart Association: "What is an Aneurysm?"
Informed Health: "When is surgery recommended for the treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysm?"
Medline Plus: Brain Aneurysm Repair."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Aortic Aneurysm."
Sydney Vascular Surgery: "Mesenteric Artery Aneurysm."