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
If the aneurysm bursts, 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:
Marfan syndrome Marfan Syndrome Marfan syndrome is a rare hereditary disorder of connective tissue, resulting in abnormalities of the eyes, bones, heart, blood vessels, lungs, and central nervous system. This syndrome is caused... read more , a disorder that runs in families and damages your body's tissues
Certain infections, such as syphilis Syphilis Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). An STI is an infection that is spread from person to person by sexual contact. Syphilis spreads easily through anal, oral, or vaginal sex... read more , pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more , or a urinary tract infection Urethritis Urethritis is an infection of your urethra, which is the tube attached to your bladder that lets urine flow out of your body. Urethritis is usually caused by bacteria that you get from sex ... read more (UTI)
Chest injuries, often from a car crash
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 up blood
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
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 Plain X-Rays A plain x-ray is an imaging test that takes a picture of the inside of your body. It uses a low dose of x-ray radiation. X-rays show body parts according to how dense (solid) they are. Doctors... read more 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:
Transesophageal ultrasound Ultrasonography Ultrasonography is a safe imaging test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the insides of your body. Ultrasonography doesn't use radiation (x-rays). Ultrasonography is also called... read more —done by passing an ultrasound probe down your throat into your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach)
How do doctors treat a thoracic aortic aneurysm?
Doctors will check on the size of your aneurysm every 6 to 12 months with a CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more .
If your aneurysm is small, doctors may have you:
Take blood pressure medicine
If you have a larger aneurysm, you'll need 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'll die.