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An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel. An aneurysm may occur in any blood vessel, but most often develops in an artery rather than a vein. An aneurysm can be characterized by its location, shape, and cause.
An aneurysm may be located in many areas of the body, such as blood vessels of the brain (cerebral aneurysm), the aorta (the largest artery in the body), the neck, the intestines, the kidney, the spleen, and the vessels in the legs (iliac, femoral, and popliteal aneurysms). The most common location of an aneurysm is the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. The thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs in the short segment of the aorta in the chest cavity. The abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs in the section of the aorta that runs through the abdomen.
An aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that result in the breaking down of the components of the artery wall that provide support and stabilize the wall. The exact cause isn't fully known. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries with a sticky substance called plaque) is thought to play an important role. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include, but are not limited to:
Risk factors you can’t control:
Risk factors you can control:
Other specific causes of aneurysms are related to the location of the aneurysm. Examples of aneurysms in the body and their additional causes may include, but are not limited to:
Type of aneurysm
Causes of aneurysms
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)
Common Iliac artery aneurysm
Femoral and popliteal artery aneurysm
Aneurysms may have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they will depend on the location of the aneurysm in the body. Pain is the most common symptom regardless of the aneurysm location.
Symptoms that may occur with different types of aneurysms may include, but are not limited to:
Symptoms associated with aneurysm type
Constant pain in abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area
Sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness
Common iliac aneurysm
Lower abdominal, back, and/or groin pain
Easily palpated (felt) pulsation of the artery located in the groin area (femoral artery) or on the back of the knee (popliteal artery), pain in the leg, sores on the feet or lower legs
The symptoms of an aneurysm may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for more information.
What tests you’ll have depends on the location of the aneurysm. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for an aneurysm may include any, or a combination, of the following:
Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on:
Treatment options for an aneurysm may include one or more of the following:
A dissection is a tear in the artery wall that separates the 3 layers of the wall caused by the ballooning of an aneurysm.
Because an aneurysm may continue to increase in size, along with progressive weakening of the artery wall, treatment is required to prevent rupture of an aneurysm. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the greater the risk for rupture (bursting). With rupture, life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding), and possibly death, may result. Loss of blood flow to the area the artery provides circulation to can cause organ and tissue death which may lead to amputation of the dead tissue.
Until your aneurysm reaches the point where it needs to be repaired, it’s very important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations closely.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, notify your healthcare provider. If you have a sudden, severe pain in the area of the aneurysm, you should be seen immediately, as this could be a sign that the aneurysm has ruptured, which is a medical emergency.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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