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Aortic Aneurysms

The aorta is the largest artery in the body and is the blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all parts of the body. The section of the aorta that runs through the chest is called the thoracic aorta and, as the aorta moves down through the abdomen it is called the abdominal aorta.

An aortic aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement or bulging of the wall of the aorta. An aneurysm can occur anywhere in the vascular tree. The bulge or ballooning may be defined as a:

  • Fusiform: Uniform in shape, appearing equally along an extended section and edges of the aorta.
  • Saccular aneurysm: Small, lop-sided blister on one side of the aorta that forms in a weakened area of the aorta wall.

An aneurysm can develop anywhere along the aorta:

  • Aneurysms that occur in the section of the aorta that runs through the abdomen (abdominal aorta) are called abdominal aortic aneurysms.
  • Aortic aneurysms that occur in the chest area are called thoracic aortic aneurysms and can involve the aortic root, ascending aorta, aortic arch or descending aorta.
  • Aneurysms that involve the aorta as it flows thru both the abdomen and chest are called thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms and thoracic aneurysm are not the only type of aneurysm. Aneurysms can develop in other blood vessels:

  • Popliteal: an aneurysm in the artery behind the knee
  • Renal: an aneurysm in the kidney; a very rare condition
  • Visceral: an aneurysm in an internal organ and/or intestines

Symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (affecting lower part of aorta in abdomen):

  • Pulsating enlargement or tender mass felt by a physician when performing a physical examination
  • Pain in the back, abdomen, or groin not relieved with position change or pain medication

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