An aneurysm occurs when an artery’s wall weakens and causes an abnormally large bulge. This bulge can rupture and cause internal bleeding. Although an aneurysm can occur in any part of your body, they’re most common in the:
About 13,000 deaths occur each year in the United States from aortic aneurysms.
Although the exact cause of an aneurysm is unclear, certain factors contribute to the condition.
For example, damaged tissue in the arteries can play a role. The arteries can be harmed by blockages, such as fatty deposits. These deposits can trigger the heart to pump harder than necessary to push blood past the fatty buildup. This stress can damage the arteries because of the increased pressure.
Atherosclerotic disease can also lead to an aneurysm. People with atherosclerotic disease have a form of plaque buildup in their arteries. Plaque is a hard substance that damages the arteries and prevents blood from flowing freely.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure may also cause an aneurysm. The force of your blood as it travels through your blood vessels is measured by how much pressure it places on your artery walls. If the pressure increases above a normal rate, it may enlarge or weaken the blood vessels.
Blood pressure for an adult is considered normal at or below 120/80 mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury.
A significantly higher blood pressure can increase the risk for heart, blood vessel, and circulation problems. Higher-than-normal blood pressure doesn’t necessarily put you at risk for an aneurysm.
An aneurysm may occur anywhere in your body, but these are the most common locations of aneurysms:
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It begins at the left ventricle of the heart and travels down the abdomen where it splits off into both legs. The aorta is a common site for arterial aneurysms.
- Aneurysms in the chest cavity are called thoracic aortic aneurysms.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the most common type. In rare cases, both the chest and abdomen can be affected by arterial damage.
Aneurysms in the brain can be any size. These often form in the blood vessels that lie deep within the brain. They also may not present any symptoms or signs. You may not even know you have an aneurysm. Brain aneurysms of this type may cause bleeding in as many as 3 percent of people.
You can also have an aneurysm in the artery behind your knee, in your spleen, or in your intestines.
Symptoms of an aneurysm vary with each type and location. It’s important to know that aneurysms that occur in the body or brain generally don’t present signs or symptoms until they rupture.
Aneurysms that occur near the surface of the body may show signs of swelling and pain. A large mass may also develop. The symptoms of ruptured aneurysms anywhere in the body can include:
- increased heart rate
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Serious complications from aneurysms can cause death if you don’t get emergency care.
The type of aneurysm that can affect you depends on specific risk factors. Males are more likely to have aneurysms than females. People older than 60 are also at a higher risk. Other factors may include:
- a diet high in fats and cholesterol
- a family history of heart conditions, including heart disease and heart attack
- pregnancy, which may increase your risk of having an aneurysm of the spleen
The diagnostic tools used to find arterial damage often depend on the location of the problem. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist like a cardiothoracic or vascular surgeon.
CT scans and ultrasound methods are common tools used to diagnose or find blood vessel irregularities. CT scans use X-rays to examine the inside of your body. This allows your doctor to see the condition of the blood vessels, as well as any blockages, bulges, and weak spots that may be inside the blood vessels.
Treatment typically depends on the location and type of aneurysm.
For example, a weak area of a vessel in your chest and abdomen may require a type of surgery called an endovascular stent graft. This minimally invasive procedure may be chosen over traditional open surgery because it involves repairing and reinforcing damaged blood vessels. The procedure also reduces the chance of infection, scarring, and other problems.
Other treatments can include medications that treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Certain types of beta-blockers may also be prescribed to lower blood pressure. Lowering your blood pressure may keep your aneurysm from rupturing.
Eating a healthy diet containing plenty of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables may help prevent an aneurysm from forming. Meat and poultry low in saturated fat and cholesterol are also good options for protein. Low-fat dairy products are also beneficial.
Regular exercise, especially cardio, can encourage healthy blood circulation and blood flow through the heart, arteries, and other blood vessels.
If you smoke tobacco products, now is the time to quit. Eliminating tobacco can decrease your risk for an aneurysm.
You should also see your doctor for annual checkups.