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Ask the doctor: Understanding the different types of aneurysms

Q. In a previous issue, you discussed abdominal aortic aneurysms. My uncle was just diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurysm. How is this type of aneurysm different?

A. An aortic aneurysm is a weakened area in the wall of the aorta that causes it to bulge or dilate. The aorta—which has a diameter the size of a garden hose—is the vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. The section that curves out of the heart, the thoracic aorta, is shaped like a candy cane. The part below, the abdominal aorta, passes straight down through the center of the body.

Most of the time, aortic aneurysms occur in the abdominal aorta. But about 25% develop in the thoracic area. Both types are more common in people who smoke or who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

Most thoracic aneurysms grow slowly over many years and don’t cause any symptoms. Many are discovered by accident when a person has an imaging test (such as a chest x-ray or CT scan) done for another reason.

As with all aneurysms, there is a risk that it will leak or rupture, which has life-threatening consequences. Depending on the exact location and size of the aneurysm, special types of surgery or other procedures can be done to repair it. 

— Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH
Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter

Posted by: Dr.Health

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