Aortic Aneurysms

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Aortic Aneurysm: Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is an Aortic Aneurysm?

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in your body. Aortic aneurysms occur when a weak part of the aorta expands like a balloon, forming a blood-filled sac. Aneurysms often cause no symptoms, but they can be life-threatening if they get too large and rupture, or burst.

UCLA Aortic Center: World Leaders in Aortic Aneurysm Treatment

An aortic aneurysm is a very serious condition. Our surgeons are experts in diagnosing and treating these aneurysms. In fact, our team developed the most advanced treatment available today: endovascular aneurysms repair. Meet our expert team.

Endovascular repair is a minimally invasive technique. That means it does not require open surgery, making recovery faster and easier on patients. Our surgeons performed the first endovascular repair in the 1990s, and thousands more since then. Today, patients come from all over the world for treatment at our center. Learn more about the history of aortic treatment at UCLA.

We offer:

  • Modern facilities: LA’s most technologically advanced operating rooms
  • Emergency care: Surgeons on-call 24/7 for evaluating and treating aortic aneurysms
  • Advanced Treatments: The latest treatment options for repairing aneurysms and access to developing treatments through our research and clinical trials

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Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysms

Most aortic aneurysms cause no symptoms. In many cases, your doctor discovers you have one after ordering a CT scan or ultrasound to check on an unrelated condition. In certain cases, patients may experience some symptoms. These include:

  • Abdominal and back pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Pain after eating
  • Weight loss
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Poor circulation to organs and lower extremities

If an aneurysm has ruptured – or burst – patients may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe and sudden abdominal pain
  • Severe chest and back pain
  • Dramatic decrease in blood pressure

Types of Aortic Aneurysms

The type of aortic aneurysm you have depends on where it is located. They can occur anywhere along the aorta, from your heart all the way down to your abdomen, just below the kidneys.

  • Abdominal aneurysms occur in the abdomen, below the arteries to both kidneys 
  • Ascending aortic aneurysms occur on the aorta as it leaves the heart
  • Arch aneurysms occur on the part of the aorta that curves around the chest near where the arteries extend to the head and arms
  • Thoracic aneurysms occur in the chest
  • Thoraco-abdominal aneurysms occur on the thoracic (chest) aorta extending into the abdomen

Causes of Aortic Aneurysms

Doctors don’t know what causes aortic aneurysms. In some cases, they believe genetics play a role because aortic aneurysms can run in families. About 20 percent of people diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm also have a parent, sibling or child who has been or will be diagnosed with one. Changes in the activity of certain elements within the aorta are thought to weaken the wall and lead to the formation of an aneurysm. Other risk factors include:

Expert Diagnosis for Aortic Aneurysm at UCLA

If you have a large aortic aneurysm (bigger than 2 inches), your doctor may be able to detect it during a physical examination. You will need to undergo an imaging test to determine how big it is and exactly where it is located in your body. This information helps your doctor find the best treatment plan for you.

Imaging tests used advanced equipment to take pictures of organs, tissues and blood vessels inside your body. To diagnose aneurysms, we use the following tests:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan (computerized tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • MRA (magnetic resonance angiography)

Find out what to expect with these imaging tests.

Advanced Treatments for Aortic Aneurysm at UCLA

If you have a small aortic aneurysm, our doctors may recommend a “watch and wait” approach. But medium and large aneurysms often require immediate treatment to repair them fast before they rupture.

We offer comprehensive options for treating aneurysms, from traditional, open surgery to the latest advancements in minimally invasive, endovascular repair. We also offer a procedure that combines these two approaches, called hybrid repair. Patients with an aneurysm located along their aorta near where it branches off to the kidneys may be candidates for fenestrated endovascular repair, an innovative surgical approach only performed by surgeons with special training.

The best option for you will depend on a number of factors, such as the size and location of your aneurysm, your overall health and age and, if possible, personal preference.

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