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Quick Facts

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

Thoracic has to do with the chest (thorax). The aorta is the main blood vessel (artery) that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in an artery wall. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the part of your aorta that passes through your chest.

  • Thoracic aortic aneurysms may cause pain, coughing, and wheezing

  • If the aneurysm bursts, blood flows out and you have terrible pain and low blood pressure

  • You'll die if you don't have surgery

  • Doctors often find an aneurysm by accident when they do an imaging test (such as an x-ray or CT scan) for another problem

  • Doctors try to fix aneurysms with surgery before the aneurysm bursts

What causes thoracic aortic aneurysms?

Causes of thoracic aortic aneurysms may include:

What are the symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

You may not have symptoms, even if your aneurysm is very big.

Sometimes, the aneurysm presses on nearby organs, nerves, or muscles and causes symptoms, such as:

  • Pain high in your back

  • Coughing

  • Coughing up blood

  • Problems swallowing

  • A hoarse voice

  • Unusual pulsing in your chest

If your aneurysm bursts, symptoms include:

  • Terrible pain high in your back

  • Pain in your belly area, chest, and arms

  • A sudden, dangerous drop in your blood pressure (shock)

  • Internal bleeding

You'll die if your aneurysm bursts and you don't get treatment.

How can doctors tell if I have a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

Doctors ask about your symptoms or may see signs of an aneurysm during a physical exam, such as:

  • A heart murmur (a whooshing sound your blood makes as it moves out of the heart into the aneurysm)

An X-ray taken for another reason may show an aneurysm.

Doctors will do imaging tests to see how big and where exactly the aneurysm is, such as:

How do doctors treat a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

Doctors will check on the size your aneurysm every 6 to 12 months with a CT scan.

If your aneurysm is small, doctors may have you:

  • Avoid smoking

  • Take blood pressure medicine

If you have a larger aneurysm, you'll need surgery.

Surgery

Doctors may do surgery to insert a tube (graft) into your aorta to repair the aneurysm. Two types of surgery are possible. Doctors may cut open your chest to insert the graft. Or they may be able to put the graft in your aorta by going through an artery in your upper leg. Which surgery you have depends on your age, health, and where your aneurysm is in your aorta.

If your aneurysm bursts or is about to burst, emergency surgery to fix it may save your life. Without surgery, you will die.

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