Thoracic aortic aneurysm

A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a weakened area in the upper part of the aorta. The aorta is the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body.

A thoracic aortic aneurysm may also be called thoracic aneurysm and aortic dissection (TAAD) because an aneurysm can lead to a tear in the artery wall (dissection) that can cause life-threatening bleeding. Small and slow-growing thoracic aortic aneurysms may not ever rupture, but large, fast-growing aneurysms may.

Depending on the size and growth rate of your thoracic aortic aneurysm, treatment may vary from watchful waiting to emergency surgery. Ideally, surgery for a thoracic aortic aneurysm can be planned if necessary.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Thoracic aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and usually without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms will never rupture. Many start small and stay small, although many expand over time. How quickly an aortic aneurysm may grow is difficult to predict.

As a thoracic aortic aneurysm grows, some people may notice:

  • Tenderness or pain in the chest
  • Back pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the aorta, which runs from your heart through your abdomen. When they occur in the upper part of the aorta, they are called thoracic aortic aneurysms. More commonly, aneurysms form in the lower part of your aorta and are called abdominal aortic aneurysms. Less commonly, an aneurysm can occur in between the upper and lower parts of your aorta. This type of aneurysm is called a thoracoabdominal aneurysm.

When to see a doctor

Most people with aortic aneurysms do not have symptoms unless a tear (dissection) or rupture has occurred.A rupture or dissection is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate assistance.

If an aneurysm ruptures or one or more layers of the artery wall splits (dissection), you may feel:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the upper back that radiates downward
  • Pain in your chest, jaw, neck or arms
  • Difficulty breathing

If you have a family history of aortic aneurysm, Marfan syndrome or other connective tissue disease, or bicuspid aortic valve, your doctor may recommend regular ultrasound exams to screen for aortic aneurysm.

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