Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

What is Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?

The aorta is the body’s main blood vessel, which starts at your heart and extends through your pelvis toward your legs. In a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm, the section of the aorta that runs through your chest (thorax) expands or balloons over time and slowly degenerates. If the aneurysm is large, there is a higher risk that it may burst. In the most serious cases, the bleeding could cause death.


What causes Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms are rare and we don’t completely understand why they develop. They may be linked to a known genetic syndrome (most commonly Marfan Syndrome but also Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Loeys-Dietz Syndrome and Turner Syndrome). They also tend to run in families for no apparent reason.


What are the symptoms of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?  

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms tend to develop and expand slowly over time. Usually they are discovered when you are tested for something else as they rarely cause any symptoms. If the Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm grows large enough, it can start to compress the area around the aneurysm. For example, your voice may become hoarse or you may have difficulty swallowing. 

In rare cases, when an aneurysm grows quickly, ruptures, or the aorta wall develops a tear, people with a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm may feel a sharp, severe pain between the shoulder blades.


How is Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm diagnosed?

It’s most common for a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm to be discovered when you are being tested for something else. In some instances, it can be detected on a routine X-ray; but a CT scan or MRI can provide more information once a diagnosis has been confirmed by a vascular surgeon. 


How is Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm treated?

If you have a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm, your vascular surgeon will consider several factors – including the size and severity of your symptoms and surgical risks – to work out what treatment is required.

Regular monitoring by your vascular surgeon is the standard treatment for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. Surgery may be offered when the risk of rupture is greater than the risk of the operation.

The type of surgery offered depends on the individual patient. Endovascular treatments are less invasive, while open surgery requires more time to recover and carries greater surgical risk. Most patients spend some time in the intensive care unit after open surgery and stay longer in hospital.

Regular monitoring:

Regular monitoring is the standard treatment for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. Expect to see your vascular surgeon every 6-12 months for a CT scan or MRI to check the aneurysm size and growth.

Endovascular treatment:

Thoracic aortic endograft repair (TEVAR) treats the aneurysm with a small device placed inside the aorta through a small incision or through puncture in the groin.

Open surgery:

Open Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm repair under a general anaesthetic requires an incision along the side of the chest to replace the damaged section of the aorta with an artificial graft.

How do I prevent Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?

Aneurysms (abnormal swelling or bulge in the wall of a blood vessel) tend to run in families, so you should talk to your family about medical history and be aware of any increased risk. While you can’t do anything specific to prevent an aneurysm from developing, you can help yourself with the following choices:

  • Speak to your doctor about screening tests if you have a family history of aneurysm.

  • Keep track of your blood pressure and get help to control if needed (eg by taking prescribed medication).

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk of developing an aneurysm. Talk to your doctor is you need help to quit.

  • Get checked regularly if you have an aneurysm. Every 6-12 months is recommended to monitor the size and growth.


Have More questions about Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms?

If you have questions about screening or treatment for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm, speak to the team at Vascular Associates.