The aorta is the main blood vessel carrying blood away from the heart. When the aorta becomes enlarged in the chest (thoracic) region, this is called a thoracic aneurysm. This is a potentially serious condition because these aneurysms can burst at any time, causing severe internal bleeding that can quickly lead to death if not treated immediately. The larger the size of the aneurysm, the greater the risk for rupture.
The symptoms of thoracic aneurysm vary according to the size of the aneurysm, and the location of the occurrence. In severe cases, the aneurysm can affect the heart itself, leading to congestive heart failure. Some occur with absolutely no symptoms at all, but they can include:
- Coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing
- Pain in the chest, jaw, neck, upper back
Risk Factors for Thoracic Aneurysm
Atherosclerosis and other aortic diseases most commonly cause a thoracic aneurysm to occur, so the risk factors that cause atherosclerosis can also cause thoracic aneurysm (including poor diet, smoking, high blood pressure). Patients at the most risk for the condition have experienced the following:
- Acute aortic dissection (separation of layers of the aorta wall)
- Being a male over age 60
- Chest trauma
- Family history of aneurysm
- Infections such as syphilis or tuberculosis
- Marfan's syndrome or other connective tissue diseases
Treating Thoracic Aneurysm
Physicians treat thoracic aneurysm according to the risk for bursting of the aneurysm. If it is small, and deemed low risk for burst or rupture, it will be monitored regularly to see if the condition worsens. During this time, patients with high blood pressure will usually be put on medication to lower it. If the aneurysm is deemed a high risk for rupture, it can be repaired through either open aneurysm repair (a more invasive technique) or an endovascular stent procedure (a less invasive technique).