An aortic aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta (the largest artery in the body), resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning.

The most common location of an aneurysm is in the abdominal section of the aorta, specifically the area below the kidneys. However, aneurysms can also occur in the upper chest area of the aorta.

The larger the aneurysm, the more potential there is for rupture of the aorta, which is a life-threatening condition.

Aortic aneurysms may be caused by build-up of plaque called atherosclerosis, a defect present at birth or an infection.

If your aneurysm bursts, you may suddenly feel intense weakness, dizziness or pain, and you may eventually lose consciousness. This is a life-threatening situation, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

What are symptoms of aortic aneurysm?

Most aortic aneurysms do not cause symptoms. Your doctor may find one during a routine examination or while performing a test for another condition. Sometimes a patient may feel abdominal or back pain, which may be a sign of an impending rupture. If you have a known aortic aneurysm and experience abdominal, back or side pain, you should contact your physician immediately.

What are risk factors for aortic aneurysm?

  • Age of 65 or older
  • Family history of aneurysms
  • History of vascular disease (arteries and veins)
  • Vascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Smoking

Your risk of developing aortic aneurysm increases as you age. Aortic aneurysm is more common in males than in females.

How is aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

If your physician discovers you have an aortic aneurysm, follow-up tests may be ordered if your vascular surgeon suspects this is a life-threatening condition:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MR)
  • Computed tomography (CT)

Depending on the size of the aneurysm, your vascular specialist may choose a "wait and see" approach, with regular checkups to monitor its growth. Once an aneurysm reaches a certain size, or if symptoms develop, your vascular specialist may recommend surgery. Learn more about treatments for aortic aneurysm arrow