An aneurysm is a bulging, weak area in the wall of a blood vessel. It 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 found in many areas of the body, such as 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. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is one that occurs in the chest cavity. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs in the abdomen.
An aneurysm may be caused by factors that result in the break down of the artery wall. The exact cause isn't fully known. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to play an important role. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:
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:
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:
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, or groin pain
Pulsating of the artery in the groin (femoral) or on the back of the knee (popliteal), pain in the leg, sores on the feet or lower legs
The symptoms of an aneurysm may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always see your doctor for more information.
What tests you’ll need depends on the location of the aneurysm. Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, tests for an aneurysm may include:
Treatment options for an aneurysm may include:
The biggest complication of an aneurysm is that it may tear (dissect) or rupture.
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). Rupture can cause life-threatening bleeding and possibly death. 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. Get immediate medical attention if you have a sudden, severe pain in the area of the aneurysm. This could be a sign that the aneurysm has ruptured.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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