Aortic Aneurysm & Heart Valve Disease
Although this website is dedicated to helping people with heart valve disease, many patients in our community also experience other forms of cardiac diseases including atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease and aortic aneurysms. To help those patients, here is educational information about the aorta, aortic aneurysms and heart valve disease.
Anatomy of the Aorta
The largest artery in your body is the aorta. It begins at the left ventricle of the heart, extends through the center of the chest and abdomen, and then branches off into two smaller arteries to your legs.
The aorta is roughly the size of a garden hose and distributes oxygenated blood from the heart to all parts of the body. An aneurysm occurs when a portion of the aortic wall becomes weak and bulges out.
The bulge is called an aneurysm. Since the aorta is the primary blood supplier, an aortic aneurysm can be a serious condition. The bleeding which results from a ruptured aortic aneurysm is potentially deadly. The larger the aneurysm is, the greater the risk of life-threatening bleeding. If the aortic aneurysm is small and grows slowly, the risk of a rupture is likewise small. Larger aneurysms that grow quickly are at increased risk of rupture. Your treatment options will depend on the size of the aneurysm and the rate at which it grows.
To help you learn more about aortic aneurysms and heart valve disorders, I recently filmed this educational video with Dr. Eric Roselli of the Cleveland Clinic.
Types of Aortic Aneurysm
There are three types of aortic aneurysms which may occur: thoracic, abdominal, and thoraco-abdominal.
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms comprise roughly one quarter of all aortic aneurysms and are potentially the most fatal of the three types.
- The abdominal aorta is the lower portion of the aorta that travels below the diaphragm through the abdomen. Roughly three quarters of all aortic aneurysms may be found on the abdominal aorta. Although any person may be affected, most of these types of aneurysms occur in men over the age of 60 and in people who have high blood pressure or smoke.
- Thoraco-abdominal aortic aneurysms compass both the thoracic and abdominal portions of the aorta and are fairly rare.
Do Aortic Aneurysms Impact Heart Valve Disorders?
Some people are born with a bicuspid aortic valve (two valve leaflets) -- rather than a normal tricuspid valve (three valve leaflets). Having this condition predisposes a person to develop an aortic aneurysm. As much as half of the people with a bicuspid aortic valve develop an aortic aneurysm.
Dr. Paul Fedak, a Calgary-based heart surgeon, recently provided our community several important guidelines about the treatment of bicuspid aortic valve and aortic aneurysms:
- Surgery to remove an enlarged aorta is recommended for most people with Bicuspid Aortic Valve at 5.5 cm (based on a CT scan or MRI test)
- Surgery to remove an enlarged aorta is recommended for some people with Bicuspid Aortic Valve at 5.0 cm (if they have other high risk features as determined by your physicians)
- Surgery to remove an enlarged aorta is recommended for most people with Bicuspid Aortic Valve at 4.5 cm if they are already having valve or other heart surgery.
Symptoms & Causes
Many aortic aneurysms are slow-growing and symptomless. Others grow rapidly, resulting in an increased risk for rupture. Some symptoms you may experience are:
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen or chest
- Back pain
- A quivering or fluttering feeling near the navel
The cause of aortic aneurysms is unknown. However, some factors that may contribute to the development of one are:
- Connective tissue disease – Diseases such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome frequently cause weakened thoracic aortic walls.
- Aortic valve problems
- Traumatic or previous injury to the aorta
What Are The Risk Factors & Complications?
The risk of developing an aneurysm is increased with certain unchangeable factors such as age (60 and over), family history, being male, and being white. Other factors which increase the risk are atherosclerosis (plaques in the arteries), high blood pressure, and using tobacco.
The two main complications of an aortic aneurysm are rupture or developing a tear in the wall. Symptoms that you may experience if your aortic aneurysm bursts are:
- Abrupt, steady, agonizing pain in the chest, abdomen, or back
- Radiating pain in the back or legs
- Clamminess or profuse sweating
- Low blood pressure or dizziness
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Stroke symptoms such as sudden weakness, paralysis, or difficulty talking
You Might Also Like
To help educate and empower you about aortic aneurysms, you may like:
- Patient Story: How Did 4D-MRI Help John Time Aortic Aneurysm & Bicuspid Valve Surgery?
- Can My Aortic Valve Be Saved During Aortic Aneurysm Repair Surgery?
- Surgeon Q&A: Does Exercise Cause An Aortic Aneurysm To Grow?
- Top 5 Facts About Your Aorta
- Free eBook: Advances in Aortic Valve & Aneurysm Surgery
Page last updated: January 12, 2019