You may think the quickest way to someone’s heart is through chocolates and flowers, but it’s actually through their arteries. All jokes aside, your arteries are the vessels that help your heart interact with your other critical organs. When an artery weakens, it can become abnormally enlarged, which is called an aneurysm. When an aneurysm ruptures, it spells serious trouble.
“Aneurysms can happen anywhere in the body, including the brain, chest, upper and lower extremities, as well as the arteries that carry blood to the abdominal and pelvic organs,” said Cecil Vaughn, III, MD, a vascular surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Glendale, Arizona. The more common types of aneurysms include:
- Cerebral Aneurysm: A cerebral aneurysm (brain aneurysm) occurs when a blood vessel in your brain bulges. This type of aneurysm often resembles a small berry on a stem.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm: Your aorta is your body’s main artery, carrying blood from your heart to your abdomen, pelvic area and legs. When it weakens it can form an aneurysm called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the most common type of aneurysm vascular surgeons deal with.
- Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm: When the section of your aorta that passes through the chest becomes weakened, the result is a thoracic aortic aneurysm.
- Peripheral Arterial Aneurysm: When an aneurysm forms in a blood vessel other than your aorta, this is called a peripheral arterial aneurysm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of aneurysm is most often found in the neck, groin, or behind the knees.
How Do I Know If I Have an Aneurysm?
The truth is, you may not know that you have an aneurysm until it ruptures, according to Dr. Vaughn. “Symptoms associated with aneurysms are ominous, and can include pain in your abdomen, flank, back or groin area,” Dr. Vaughn cautioned. A ruptured aneurysm is a life-threatening emergency. Signs of a ruptured aneurysm include feeling lightheaded, experiencing a rapid heart rate and feeling severe or sudden pain in your abdomen, chest, or back.
“Because most aneurysms are asymptomatic, they are usually identified incidentally during a thorough physical examination or imaging exam done for other reasons or complaints,” said Dr. Vaughn. “To mitigate your risk of an aneurysm, avoid smoking and maintain healthy levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.”
Are Aneurysms Treatable?
If your doctor discovers you have an aneurysm, and it is relatively small, the best option may be to observe the aneurysm at regular follow-up intervals and keep risk factors under control.
“Generally, smaller aneurysms are evaluated by your doctor with regular imaging to watch for enlargement,” according to Dr. Vaughn.
If surgery is recommended, “traditional surgery to repair aneurysms using prosthetic graft reconstruction is still the gold standard,” explained Dr. Vaughn. But he also noted the exciting advances in endovascular repair in the last 20 years. “Now,” said Dr. Vaughn, “on most patients that require repair, we can use a minimally-invasive procedure called ‘endovascular aneurysm repair’ that does not require a large incision. Hospital stays are shorter, recovery is quicker, and results are generally very good in properly selected patients."
If you’re concerned you may have an aneurysm, you should be evaluated by a vascular surgeon who can discuss your situation and recommend a management plan. Visit bannerhealth.com to find an expert near you.