While a thoracic aortic aneurysm can be fatal if it ruptures, by understanding the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options, you can be prepared to take action quickly if needed.
A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a blood-filled bulge or ballooning in a part of your aorta that runs through your chest. The aorta is your body’s major blood vessel. It runs from your heart, through your chest (which is called the thoracic area), and to your abdomen where it divides to supply blood to your legs.
A thoracic aortic aneurysm is considered serious. The bulge in your thoracic aorta can become weak, and the force of normal blood pressure can cause it to rupture. This can lead to severe pain and massive internal bleeding, or haemorrhage.
It is not known what exactly causes a thoracic aortic aneurysm in some people. The ballooning may be caused by a weakness in the wall of the aorta where it has become inflamed.
Some doctors believe that this inflammation may be due to clogged arteries (also known as hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis), but it may also be related to smoking, obesity, heredity, injury, or other diseases.
Most people with a thoracic aortic aneurysm do not have any symptoms. Often, the aneurysms grow slowly and go unnoticed. Many never reach the point of bursting; others enlarge quickly.
When the aneurysm expands, you may notice chest pain, lower back pain, coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing. Most aneurysms are identified during routine medical exams, such as x-rays taken for other reasons.
Risk factors for thoracic aortic aneurysms are similar to those that contribute to clogging of the arteries, including:
Your risk of developing a thoracic aortic aneurysm increases as you age. Family history, chest injury, and other diseases may also be risk factors. Some patients with a thoracic aortic aneurysm also have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
If your doctor sees signs of a thoracic aortic aneurysm, he or she may arrange for special tests to confirm the diagnosis. Usually, these will involve imaging of your chest using x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerised tomography (CT), ultrasound imaging, and angiography.
The images produced by these methods help your doctor “see” inside your aorta as well as other blood vessels and organs in your body to see if a thoracic aneurysm is present.
Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.