When the aorta, a major artery, develops a weak spot, enlarges, or balloons outward, it is referred to as an aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm occurring in the middle or lower abdomen are referred to as abdominal aortic aneurysm. If the aneurysm occurs in the chest this is referred to as a thoracic aortic aneurysm. Most aneurysms display few or no warning signs. Frequently people are unaware of the problem until a physician detects it through an ultrasound test or CT scan. Sudden, persistent, or severe pain in the chest or abdomen is a warning sign that should not be ignored.
Most aneurysms develop slowly over the years and often all that is required is surveillance by a physician. The decision for surgical intervention is based on multiple factors including size, growth, location, and symptoms.
Open aneurysm surgery is the traditional way to correct the problem. The aneurysm is cut open, and an artificial graft is attached inside the aorta, connecting the aorta above and below the aneurysm. A less invasive procedure, endovascular stent-grafting, is the newest approach to this disease. Instead of going in through the abdomen or chest, a catheter with a stent-graft (a mesh-like tube that holds the vessel open) is passed through the femoral artery in the leg, bypassing or reinforcing the wall of the aneurysm and providing a permanent alternative path for blood flow. Endovascular stent-grafting is not appropriate for all types of aneurysms and you will need to discuss this with your physician.