An aneurysm is a weakening of a vessel wall with resultant dilation of a segment of the vessel. As blood continues to flow in an aneurysm, the pressure on the weakened wall can cause the aneurysm to expand like a balloon. Aneurysms can occur in any vessel, most notably in the brain, heart, thoracic aorta, and abdominal aorta.
A dissection is a tear of the inside layer of a blood vessel wall that allows blood to flow between the layers that make up the vessel wall and separate these layers. This can compromise blood flow in the main portion of the vessel and result in loss of blood flow to critical organs. Dissections can also occur in any vessel, but most notably in the thoracic or abdominal aorta.
Aneurysms and dissections can result in areas of turbulent blood flow which can lead to the formation of blood clots, or thrombi. Blood clots that break off, called emboli, can cause damage if they lodge in the brain, heart, or other organs, resulting in reduced blood flow (ischemia) to the organ. An enlarged vessel (from either a dissection or an aneurysm) can also compress surrounding nerves and cause pain. When an aneurysm or dissection grows larger, the risk of blood vessel rupture increases. A rupture can lead to rapid bleeding and death if not treated.
Common symptoms of aneurysms and dissections are listed below. Intracranial (brain) aneurysms are not discussed here.
Symptoms for unruptured aneurysms vary depending on the location of the aneurysm, or they could be asymptomatic, depending on the size of the aneurysm. Common variations are listed below.
Thoracic aortic aneurysm
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
Visceral aneurysms are aneurysms in arteries that supply internal organs, such as the spleen, liver, intestines, and kidneys. Symptoms will vary depending on the organ the affected artery supplies.
A ruptured aneurysm of a blood vessel such as the aorta can cause rapid large volume blood loss, causing hypovolemic shock as there is not enough blood pressure to deliver blood to the organs. Ruptured visceral aneurysms can cause similar symptoms. If not treated quickly, death can result.
Some aneurysm cases may be diagnosed from a physical exam by your healthcare provider. The following tests are typically performed to determine if an aneurysm or dissection is present:
Endovascular stent grafting is a procedure that is performed to treat aneurysm or and dissection. A stent graft is an expandable vascular conduit which is placed into the diseased segment of vessel thereby reinforcing the vessel wall and reducing the potential of rupture or progression of disease.
If the aneurysm is in a suitable location in the body and has specific dimensions, embolization is another treatment that may be considered.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our IR physicians, please call 310-481-7545.