Thoracic aortic aneurysms - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

The aorta is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. The thoracic aorta is the section of the aorta that is in the chest. 

What is a thoracic aortic aneurysm? 

An aortic aneurysm is a swelling or bulging at any point along the aorta. An aneurysm usually occurs where the wall has become weak and has lost its elastic properties, so it doesn’t return to its normal shape after the blood has passed through. A thoracic aortic aneurysm or TAA for short is a swelling or bulging of the aorta in the chest. 

 

A picture showing the variations of aortic aneurysm according to where they occur.

What are the symptoms of of a thoracic aortic aneurysm?  

A thoracic aneurysm is often found accidentally during investigations for other medical conditions often called an ‘incidental finding’. You might not have experienced any symptoms, or may have had some, but not associated them with this condition.
 
Larger aneurysms in your chest may cause discomfort or pain in your chest or back, and symptoms include:
  • pain in the jaw, neck, and upper back
  • chest or back pain
  • a persistent cough
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty breathing.

What causes a thoracic aortic aneurysm? 

Your risk of having an aneurysm increases as you get older. It can also be a condition that affects other people on your family. Getting certain infections, and inflammatory or genetic conditions such as Marfan syndrome, may also increase your risk.

There are also certain things to avoid when you have a thoracic aortic aneurysm. These include: 

  • avoid being constipated, as the strain can increase your blood pressure
  • avoid lifting excessive weight and exercise that involves short bursts of activity. Consult your doctor for more information on what physical activity you can do. 
Your risk is also higher if you smoke, have high blood pressure or have coronary heart disease.
The thoracic aortic aneurysm will not get smaller, but there are certain things you can do to slow down its growth and prevent any further complications by keeping your heart as healthy as possible: 

Read more about what you can do to make positive changes and understand your risk factors.     

How can a thoracic aortic aneurysm be treated?

The treatment you will receive will depend on the size of the aneurysm and its location. Treatments can include:

  • Surveillance may be recommended by your doctor if your thoracic aneurysm is small (between 3 and 5.4 cm).  This means you will be monitored with echocardiograms and CT scans carried out every six or 12 months, to see if there are signs of changes in your aneurysm. How fast the aneurysm grows (if at all) varies depending on the individual. 
  • Medication may be prescribed to  control risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Stents are tubes that are surgically inserted into arteries to allow blood to flow freely. Depending on where your aortic aneurysm is and how large it is, you may be able to have a stent put in. The procedure involves making a small cut in the groin and passing the stent into the aorta and putting it across the aneurysm. This approach is less invasive, but is not suitable for all patients. 
  • Surgery may be needed to replace the section of the aorta where the aneurysm is. If your thoracic aneurysm is large (5 to 5,5 cm or larger) and is causing symptoms, or if you have a genetic condition such as Marfan syndrome, your surgeon may recommend this option. This will be performed by open heart surgery, meaning the chest is cut open. The section of the aorta that has the aneurysm is then removed and replaced by a new aorta that is made from a synthetic material. 
If you have a TAA due to a condition called Marfan Syndrome, you and your family might be offered genetic testing or screening. Speak to your specialist about this.  

For more help and information: 

 

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