Your aorta is a large blood vessel that supplies many parts of your body with fresh, oxygen-rich blood. An aortic aneurysm — a bulge in the wall of your aorta — weakens the aorta wall, and can cause dangerous, even life-threatening complications if it leaks (dissects) or ruptures.
If an aneurysm tears, it can dramatically reduce normal blood flow, starving your body of the necessary supply of oxygen. A full aortic rupture causes massive internal bleeding and loss of consciousness.
As part of our cardiovascular services, St. John’s provides emergency care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of a burst aneurysm. Call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room for urgent aortic aneurysm treatment in Ventura County.
Recognizing Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of an aortic aneurysm typically don’t occur until the problem is so severe that it causes the aneurysm to burst or leak. When this happens, the most common symptoms include:
Severe pain in the chest or abdomen
Skin that feels clammy to the touch
Feelings of doom
If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, call 911 for emergency medical attention.
Aortic Aneurysm Causes
The main cause of an aortic aneurysm is a weak area in the wall of the aorta. Risk factors that increase your chances of developing aortic aneurysms include:
Coronary artery disease, or heart disease (this is the greatest risk factor)
High blood pressure
Age older than 60
Inflammation of the aorta
Family history of aortic aneurysm from genetic disorders
As time goes on, a weak area in the aortic wall will begin to bulge or balloon outward.
Treating Aortic Aneurysms at St. John’s Regional Medical Center
The location and the severity of an aortic aneurysm influence your treatment options. Small abdominal aortic aneurysms may not need treatment, other than monitoring for signs of growth. Thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysms are more likely to require treatment.
Generally, aortic aneurysms that grow quickly or are larger than two inches require surgical intervention. Surgical options include:
Endovascular stent placement. Also called endovascular aneurysm repair, this surgery involves the implantation of a stent (piece of sturdy mesh) to reinforce the weakened part of the aorta wall to keep it from bulging. This is a minimally invasive procedure, performed through an incision in your groin.
Zenith® Fenestrated (ZFEN) is an endovascular graft designed for patients with complex, abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA). AAA occurs when the walls of the abdominal portion of the aorta weakens and begins to bulge. ZFEN allows our vascular surgeons to line the inner walls of the aorta to provide blood a new, reinforced path that does not put pressure on the aneurysm and significantly reduces the risk of a rupture. Advantages of ZFEN include: smaller incisions, faster recovery times, and shorter hospital stays.
Aortic graft placement. In this procedure, a severely damaged portion of the aorta is replaced with a plastic or fabric graft. Open heart surgery is necessary to accomplish this task for most thoracic aortic aneurysms — although some can be accessed from the side of the chest, through the ribs. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are repaired through an incision in the abdomen.
Thinking Through your Treatment Options
You will not have a chance to review your treatment options if you have a leaking or ruptured aneurysm. These conditions are treated by emergency surgery.
If your aneurysm is intact, and you have the benefit of time, discuss the risks and likely outcomes of all available treatment options. With an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you may be able to opt for a wait-and-see approach.
How to Prevent Aortic Aneurysms
Aortic aneurysms can occur in otherwise healthy people. However, you can lower your risk for aortic aneurysms by following these tips:
Quit smoking (smoking is a major risk factor in men).
Treat known heart conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
For a more detailed discussion of aneurysm prevention strategies, or any other cardiovascular concern, use our Find a Doctor tool and choose a Dignity Health cardiology specialist in Ventura County.