Aortic Aneurysms

Enlarged aortaAn aneurysm is a weakening or ballooning of a blood vessel. This process may occur in any artery in the body. Aneurysms may also occur in any part of the aorta, including the root, the arch, the ascending and the descending aorta. Aneurysms may be thought of as a balloon. If one blows up a balloon, it is difficult at first. There is a fair amount of opposing strength. Think of this strength as the condition of a normal aorta. Think now about the point where that strength is overcome. It becomes quite easy to distend the balloon with more air. Consider that this is the situation of an aneurysmal aorta. As we all have experienced, eventually one more puff of air will break the balloon. All balloons rupture at different points, but the risk seems to increase with both the absolute amount and/or speed of air entering.

This principle holds true for the aorta as well. Most people can tolerate aneurysms of up to 5cm without any real increased risk of aortic problems. At about 5cm, however, there is an increased risk of tearing. To go back to the balloon example, this is the size where it gets easy to change the size.

Aneurysm and Aortic Dissection

An aortic aneurysm greater than 5cm increases the risk of a dissection, or tear in the wall of the aorta. An aortic dissection is a life threatening emergency and can lead to a full rupture. Learn more about aortic dissection.

Aneurysm and Aortic Valve Regurgitation

In addition to the risk of death associated with aortic aneurysm and dissection, an aneurysm can dilate the base of the aortic valve, causing aortic valve regurgitation. With regurgitation, the valve fails to adequately seal, allowing the reverse flow of blood and resulting in an inadequate blood flow to the body. As this process ensues, the heart may enlarge and ultimately result in congestive heart failure.