Aortic Aneurysms

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

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In this set of 6 videos, Mark Mewissen, MD, vascular center director at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, discusses aortic aneurysms and the esteemed Aurora Health Care’s cardiovascular program which uses a team approach to treat the most complex heart care cases.

Aneurysms are balloon-shaped bulges that occur in your artery walls, causing them to become thin, weak and prone to rupturing. Your aorta is the largest artery in your body, and it carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. When an aneurysm occurs in the aorta, it is known as an aortic aneurysm. Aortic aneurysms are the most common type of aneurysm—and the most deadly.

In the United States, about 13,000 people die from a ruptured or dissected aortic aneurysm each year. A rupture occurs when the artery bursts, causing dangerous bleeding inside the body. A dissection occurs when the artery wall splits into one or more layers, causing bleeding into and along the layers of the artery wall.

Types of Aneurysms

Although aneurysms can form in any artery, the two most common ones occur in the aorta:

  • A thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs in the chest portion of the aorta
  • An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs in the abdominal portion of the aorta

If an aneurysms forms in the chest and abdominal area, it is known as a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm. If an aneurysm forms in an artery other than the aorta, it is known as a peripheral aneurysm.

Aortic Aneurysms

Dr. Mark Mewissen points to a 3D rendition of a section of the aorta where aneurysms are most common.

Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms

In many cases, aortic aneurysms develop and enlarge without causing any symptoms. When symptoms of aortic aneurysms occur, they may vary depending on where the aneurysm is located.

Symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm may include:

  • Coughing, hoarseness or difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, upper back or chest

Symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may include:

  • A pulsating, tender mass in the lower part of the abdominal
  • Pain in the back, abdomen or groin not relieved with pain medication or changing positions

Signs of an aortic aneurysm rupture or dissection may include:

  • Loss of consciousness or shock
  • Sudden, severe pain

A ruptured or dissected aneurysm requires emergency treatment. If you suspect this condition, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.

Aortic Aneurysm Causes and Risks

Your arteries have thick walls to withstand normal blood pressure. However, the force of blood pushing against weakened artery walls can cause an aneurysm to develop. Medical conditions and risk factors that can damage or injure your arteries include: 

  • A family history of aneurysms
  • Advancing age
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Genetic conditions, such as Marfan syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Infection
  • Smoking
  • Trauma, such as a car accident
X-Ray of Aortic Aneurysm

Pre-operative angiogram of an aortic aneurysm.

Diagnosing Aortic Aneurysms

Early diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm is critical to managing the condition and reducing the risk of a sudden rupture or dissection. If you are at risk for developing an aneurysm, you can benefit from early, routine screening with any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Angiography
  • Cardiac computed tomography, also known as a CT angiogram
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound testing, also known as echocardiography
Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

Dr. Mark Mewissen and Dr. Richard Carballo prepare a patient for aortic aneurysm stent graft surgery.

Treating Aortic Aneurysms

Small aortic aneurysms that don’t have symptoms may not require treatment. However, your doctor may recommend routine monitoring.

If an aortic aneurysm is large or causing symptoms, it should be treated with medications to lower your blood pressure, relax your blood vessels and reduce the risk of rupture.

If your condition requires additional treatment, you doctor may recommend either of the following procedures:

A Leader in Diagnosing, Treating and Managing Aortic Aneurysms

Aurora Health Care established the Vascular Center at St Luke's Medical Center located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to diagnose and treat people with peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and related conditions such as aortic aneurysms.

We provide individualized treatment plans to correspond with the complexity of your condition. To contact the Vascular Center, please call 414-385-2429.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.