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Diagnosing Aortic Aneurysms


The aorta is the largest artery in the human body. It plays a critical role in delivering oxygen-rich blood to your vital organs. An aneurysm is a bulge in the layers of an artery. If it occurs in the aorta, it’s called an aortic aneurysm. If an aortic aneurysm weakens, the layers of the aorta may separate, or even rupture, resulting in a life-threatening situation. 

Because aortic aneurysms develop slowly, most people with this heart condition don’t know they have one until they experience a medical emergency. The best way to avoid complications from an aortic aneurysm is to have regular physical exams that can diagnose the problem in the early stages.

Find a Doctor and schedule your physical exam with a Dignity Health cardiology specialist experienced in identifying aortic aneurysms in the Bay Area. To learn more about your heart health, take our quick online heart risk assessment.

Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysms

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (occurring in the stomach area) rarely causes symptoms unless it damages the artery. However, a thoracic aortic aneurysm (occurring in the chest) may cause some discomfort if it presses on surrounding organs in the chest cavity. 

A ruptured aneurysm will cause chest or abdominal pain, rapid pulse, or clammy skin. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care. 

What are the Causes of Aortic Aneurysms?

Doctors do not know what causes aortic aneurysms. However, they have identified several risk factors. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the the greatest concern. 

Additional risk factors include: 

  • Age older than 60
  • Family history of aortic aneurysms 
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Inflammation of the aorta
  • Smoking

Aortic aneurysms are more common in men than women. 

Preventing & Treating Aortic Aneurysms at Dignity Health 

Preventing aortic aneurysms is challenging because even otherwise healthy people can be affected. By controlling your blood pressure, maintaining appropriate cholesterol levels, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, you can minimize your risk. 

Your aortic aneurysm treatment will depend on the location and size of the arterial bulge. Thoracic aortic aneurysms and ruptured abdominal aneurysms require immediate surgery, as they are life-threatening conditions. Aortic aneurysm surgery is also advised for large or quickly growing aneurysms. Your Dignity Health doctor may recommend only monitoring small or slow-growing aneurysms. 

Talk to a doctor about your risk factors and strategies for preventing aortic aneurysms in the Bay Area. 

Dignity Health delivers high-quality cardiac care, including treatments for aortic aneurysms, in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.