An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel, usually an artery (rather than a vein). There are a number of types of aneurysms:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms
- Peripheral arterial aneurysms
- Renal artery aneurysms
The greatest danger of an aneurysm is that it could burst or rupture. A rupture happens when the “balloon” in the blood vessel gets too big. In most cases where rupture occurs, the patient does not survive. However, if diagnosed early enough most aneurysms can be treated with great success.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
Most aneurysms occur in the aorta, which is the main artery that carries blood from the heart to other parts of the body. These aneurysms are categorized depending upon their location in the aorta. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs in the section of the aorta where it divides to supply blood to the kidneys, pelvis, and legs.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an enlargement or “bulge” that develops in a weakened area within the largest artery in the abdomen. The pressure generated by each heartbeat pushes against the weakened aortic wall, causing the aneurysm to enlarge. After a certain size is reached, the risk of an aneurysm rupture is higher. Aneurysm rupture can occur at any time and most aneurysms rupture without warning signs and symptoms. When this happens there is massive internal bleeding, a situation that is usually fatal.
An AAA can be safely treated or cured with early diagnosis. Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with AAA annually, and approximately 15,000 die each year from a ruptured AAA. AAA is a disease that primarily affects people in their late 50s and 60s. The only way to break this cycle is to find the AAA before it ruptures. Ultrasound screening is a safe and accurate means to accomplish this.
Risk Factors for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
White men ages 60 to 80 are most at risk for developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Other risk factors that have been identified include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of aneurysms (genetics)
- Marfan syndrome
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
Peripheral Arterial Aneurysm
When an aneurysm occurs in the vessels carrying blood to the legs and arms, it is called a peripheral arterial aneurysm.
Peripheral arterial aneurysms are more common in the legs than the arms, and are most frequently found in the femoral or popliteal arteries. Patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms are at a much higher risk for developing peripheral arterial aneurysms.
Peripheral arterial aneurysms typically do not rupture. They are, however, susceptible to embolization—dislodgement of the clot, which causes an obstruction of a major artery. For this reason, peripheral arterial aneurysms should be treated promptly; otherwise a severe reduction in blood flow can occur, threatening the viability of the affected leg.
Renal Arterial Aneurysm
Aneurysms can also occur in the renal arteries—the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. Renal arterial aneurysms are rare, occurring in less than one percent of the population.
Renal arterial aneurysms rupture very infrequently, usually if the size is greater than 2 to 2.5 cm, although the potential for any aneurysm to rupture, regardless of its location, is always present.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Aneurysms
Typically, abdominal aortic aneurysms do not display symptoms. Most AAAs are diagnosed during a routine physical examination or imaging procedure such as ultrasound, echocardiogram, X-ray, MRI, or CT scans for another condition. Some patients may experience a pulsating sensation in their abdomen. Aneurysms can also cause pain in the back or legs, although this is relatively uncommon.