An aneurism can occur when a blood carrying artery narrows and hardens, a condition known as atherosclerosis. High blood pressure can lead to what is called an aortic dissection, a separation of the tissue layers within the aorta, the largest artery leading from the heart supplying blood throughout the body. A thoracic aneurysm occurs in the chest area and can lead to disability and possible death.
One of the problems identifying thoracic aneurysm symptoms is that nearly 50 percent that suffer this condition are asymptomatic, or do not exhibit any signs or problems. Aneurysm symptoms may appear but this is dependent upon the size and location or, in the case of a thoracic aneurysm, the occurrence of aortic dissection. In the other half of the population suffering this condition, aneurysm symptoms appear as:
- Extreme difficulty breathing
- Jaw and neck pain
- Sudden and deep pain in the chest and/or upper back
In many individuals, the first sign of aneurysm symptoms can be a Transient Ischemic Attack, or TIA, know commonly as a “mini-stroke.” Ironically, people suffering from a mini-stroke display aneurysm symptoms that, when recognized, can help save their lives. These TIA symptoms, which can last up to 24 hours, include:
- Sudden and extremely intensely painful headache
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Loss of movement and sensation in one arm or leg
- Slurred speech
- Numbing weakness on one side of the body
- Confusion, disorientation
- Dizziness and possible fainting
Symptoms of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
A thoracic aortic aneurysm might be asymptomatic (without symptoms); about half of the people who suffer from thoracic aortic aneurysm do not notice any symptoms. The appearance of symptoms often depends on the aneurysm’s size and location, and the presence of aortic dissection (separation of layers within the aorta).
When symptoms emerge, they can include:
Sudden pain in the chest or upper back
Pain in the jaw or neck region
In some instances, the first sign of thoracic aortic aneurysm is a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA, or “mini-stroke”). Symptoms of TIA can last up to 24 hours and include:
Weakness or numbness on one side the body
Loss of control of movement in an arm or leg
Loss of vision in one eye
Slurring of speech
Fainting, dizziness or confusion
Sudden, severe headache
TIA can lead to a more serious stroke, so it should be referred to the emergency room and the doctor immediately.
If you experience any symptom identified above, tell your doctor immediately, especially if you have a history of heart disease or diabetes. A ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysm is an emergency situation requiring immediate treatment.
Causes of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
Risk factors include a family history of thoracic aortic aneurysm, smoking, heart disease and/or high blood pressure (hypertension).
Fatty deposits called plaques collect in arteries over time, causing them to harden in a process known as atherosclerosis. Healthy arteries are smooth, unobstructed vessels. However, they can narrow and obstruct blood flow through normal aging and factors such as smoking, diabetes and a fat- or cholesterol-heavy diet. The process can affect any artery in the body, raising the risk of aneurysm, as well as heart disease and stroke.
Certain other diseases that can affect the aorta – such as Marfan’s syndrome, syphilis, or tuberculosis (TB) – and predispose individuals to thoracic aortic aneurysm.
Risk Factors of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
Risk factors for thoracic aortic aneurysms include:
High cholesterol level
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
Family history of heart disease
Excessive weight or obesity
Also, the risk of thoracic aortic aneurysm is higher among men of advanced age. If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to monitor for signs of carotid artery disease, stroke or trans-ischemic attack (TIA, or “mini-stroke,” described above).
Diagnosis of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
Since a thoracic aortic aneurysm may lack symptoms, it often is discovered during a medical exam for an unrelated condition. As part of a complete medical history and physical examination workup, the doctor will perform a full medical exam as well as review key points of your medical history. The doctor will check for circulatory abnormalities, carefully check blood pressure, and may perform one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
CT (computed tomography) scan: a series of X-ray images put together by a computer that can help pinpoint an aneurysm’s location
Angiography shows blood flow through the arteries by using a contrast dye that is injected into the blood vessels. X-rays are used to take images of the circulating contrast dye. The images allow the doctor to check for the severity and the location of the blockage.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the electrical impulses generated by the heart. This test helps to assess whether heart disease is involved in peripheral arterial disease. The ECG may be done as part of a treadmill test, during which the heart is monitored during physical exertion.
The purpose of the diagnostic tests is to assess the severity of the thoracic aortic aneurysm and determine the best course of action to minimize the risk of a rupture.
Complications of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
Complications from thoracic aortic aneurysm can include:
Arterial embolism (clot formation)
Aortic dissection (leakage along the wall of the aorta)
Without treatment, thoracic artery aneurysms can have several serious complications, including transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini stroke”) or stroke.
Treatments & Procedures for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
Surgical Repair for Aortic Aneurysms
Treatment Options for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms
Self Care of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
If you are at risk for thoracic aortic aneurysm, the purpose of any self-care regimen is to prevent rupture. If you smoke, you should look into resources that are available to help you stop smoking, as smoking is a risk factor for developing thoracic aortic aneurysm, as well as other life-threatening diseases. Other self-care methods include:
Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy (low-salt, low-fat) diet. Following such a diet can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Maintaining a healthy weight.
Receiving regular physical exams.
Self-care methods are often done under the supervision of a physician and in combination with other treatment therapies. The doctor will continue to monitor the thoracic aortic aneurysm on a regular schedule, at least twice per year.
Anyone exhibiting these signs should be transported immediately to a hospital emergency room to see a doctor before the condition worsens. You need to tell the doctor about any of these aneurysm symptoms suffered as well as any history of heart disease and diabetes. This may help to prevent a ruptured thoracic aneurysm, which, if this occurs, could lead to severe disability and death.
What Causes the Situation?
There are several causes leading to the appearance of thoracic aneurysm symptoms that include a family history suffering the condition (congenital), plus behavior factors such as smoking, a lifelong diet containing consumption of fatty foods and hypertension (high blood pressure).
What About Detection?
Due to the fact half the people suffering from this condition present no thoracic aneurysm symptoms, it is often discovered during medical examinations for different complaints. An aneurism smaller than five centimeters (about 1.5 inches) typically does not exhibit any symptoms. However, once detected, it should be monitored at least once every six months. A licensed physician will more than likely prescribe medication to control high blood pressure reducing the risk for the aneurysm to grow and rupture. Additionally, it is a good idea to request an examination even when not exhibiting thoracic aneurysm symptoms if there is a family history suffering this condition.
Whether manifested or detected during an exam, thoracic aneurysm symptoms are indicators for impending health problems that could include an aortic rupture, heart attack, kidney failure and arterial embolism, or blood clot.
Any signs no matter how trivial should be checked by qualified medical personnel to protect your health and your future.