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What Is an Aneurysm?

An aneurysm (AN-u-rism) is a balloon-like bulge in an artery. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your body.

Arteries have thick walls to withstand normal blood pressure. However, certain medical problems, genetic conditions, and trauma can damage or injure artery walls. The force of blood pushing against the weakened or injured walls can cause an aneurysm.

An aneurysm can grow large and rupture (burst) or dissect. A rupture causes dangerous bleeding inside the body. A dissection is a split in one or more layers of the artery wall. The split causes bleeding into and along the layers of the artery wall.

Both rupture and dissection often are fatal.

Overview

Most aneurysms occur in the aorta, the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. The aorta goes through the chest and abdomen.

An aneurysm that occurs in the chest portion of the aorta is called a thoracic (tho-RAS-ik) aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm that occurs in the abdominal portion of the aorta is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Aneurysms also can occur in other arteries, but these types of aneurysm are less common. This article focuses on aortic aneurysms.

About 13,000 Americans die each year from aortic aneurysms. Most of the deaths result from rupture or dissection.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent rupture and dissection. However, aneurysms can develop and grow large before causing any symptoms. Thus, people who are at high risk for aneurysms can benefit from early, routine screening.

Outlook

Doctors often can successfully treat aortic aneurysms with medicines or surgery if they’re found in time. Medicines may be given to lower blood pressure, relax blood vessels, and reduce the risk of rupture.

Large aortic aneurysms often can be repaired with surgery. During surgery, the weak or damaged portion of the aorta is replaced or reinforced.

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April 1, 2011