Heart & Circulatory Health

Aneurysm - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention Methods

Written by
Dr. K Sneha
and medically reviewed by Dr. Jagruti Jain

03 Oct 2019  -  5 min read

Abstract

Abstract

The ballooning of a blood vessel is called an aneurysm. It commonly affects the blood vessels in the brain, aorta, behind the knee, and spleen. Read the article to know more.

Aneurysm - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention Methods

What Is an Aneurysm?

The enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the wall of the artery, is called an aneurysm. Usually, an aneurysm does not cause any symptoms. But it can cause fatal complications if it ruptures. As the artery wall is weakened in a spot, it results in a bulge or distention, of that spot. Most aneurysms are not dangerous, but some can rupture and result in severe internal bleeding. This bulging of an artery can occur anywhere in the body, but it is most commonly seen in the arteries of the brain, legs, spleen, and heart (aorta).

Aneurysms of the Circle of Willis in the brain and abdominal aortic aneurysms are most commonly fatal. Following a heart attack, aneurysms can also occur in the heart.

What Are the Types of Aneurysm?

An aneurysm can be classified depending on the shape, type, and location. Depending on the shape, the types are:

  1. Fusiform aneurysms - The blood vessel bulges on all sides.

  2. Saccular aneurysms - Only bulge on one side.

Depending on the type, aneurysms can be:

  1. True aneurysm - An aneurysm that involves all three layers of the artery wall. Examples are atherosclerotic, congenital, ventricular, and syphilitic aneurysms.

  2. False aneurysm or Pseudoaneurysm - It occurs when blood leaks out of an artery or vein, but the blood gets collected in the surrounding tissue. It is commonly seen after blunt trauma.

Depending on the location, the types are:

  • Aortic aneurysm - The large artery that begins from the heart is called the aorta. It is normally 2 to 3 cm in diameter, but with an aneurysm, it can bulge to more than 5 cm. The two types of aortic aneurysm are:

    • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) - AAA is the most common type of aortic aneurysm. If left untreated, the survival rate is 20 % for an AAA of over 6 cm. It can become fatal rapidly.

    • Thoracic aortic aneurysm - This type is rare. It has a survival rate of 85 % with surgery and 56 % without treatment.

  • Brain aneurysm - Bulging of the arteries that supply blood to the brain are called brain or cerebral aneurysms. If this aneurysm gets ruptured, it results in death within 24 hours. It is fatal in 40 % of cases.

  • Peripheral aneurysm - An aneurysm in any of the peripheral arteries is called peripheral aneurysm. The types of peripheral aneurysm are:

What Causes an Aneurysm?

The exact cause of an aneurysm is still not clear, but the factors that increase the risk of a person developing an aneurysm are:

  • Positive family history.

  • Congenital (present from birth).

  • Injury to tissue in the arteries.

  • Atherosclerotic disease (plaque buildup in the arteries).

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

What Are the Symptoms of an Aneurysm?

Aneurysms produce no symptoms and can develop slowly over many years. Symptoms develop when the aneurysm expands quickly or ruptures. The common symptoms include:

  • Pain.

  • Dizziness.

  • Clammy skin

  • Nausea.

  • Bleeding.

  • Vomiting.

  • Increased heart rate.

  • Shock.

  • Hypotension.

If the aneurysm is near the surface of the skin, it might cause painful swelling with a visible throbbing mass.

The symptoms of an aortic aneurysm are:

  • Back pain.

  • Throbbing navel pain.

  • Severe pain on the side of the abdomen.

The symptoms of a brain aneurysm that has not ruptured are:

  • Tiredness.

  • Loss of balance.

  • Vision problems.

  • Slurred speech.

  • Loss of perception.

The symptoms of a brain aneurysm that has ruptured are:

  • Headaches.

  • Vision loss.

  • Neck pain.

  • Neck stiffness.

  • Pain behind the eyes.

What Are the Risk Factors for an Aneurysm?

Even though the exact cause of an aneurysm is not known, some factors that seem to increase the risk of developing one are:

  • Obesity.

  • Smoking.

  • Pregnancy.

  • Family history of heart problems.

  • Consuming a diet high in saturated and trans fats.

  • Sedentary lifestyle.

How Is an Aneurysm Diagnosed?

Aneurysms that do not cause any symptoms are diagnosed accidentally while screening for some other health condition. The common methods used are:

  • CT scan - X-rays are used to produce cross-sectional views of the body.

  • MRI scan - Strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves are used to generate images of the organs in the body.

  • Ultrasound - High-frequency sound waves are used to produce images of organs inside the body.

What Are the Treatment Options for an Aneurysm?

The treatment options include:

Aortic aneurysm - If the aneurysm does not cause any symptoms, then medications and preventive measures are suggested along with surgical treatment. Emergency surgery is needed for a ruptured aneurysm. Depending on the age, coexisting conditions, patient’s choice, size of the aneurysm, and it’s rate of growth, an unruptured aortic aneurysm is operated. The two surgical options include:

  • Open stent-graft surgery - Here, a large incision is made to expose the aorta, and a stent is placed.

  • Endovascular stent-graft surgery - Here, the aneurysm is accessed through a small incision near the hip, and a stent-graft is inserted. This graft helps seal off the aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm - Brain aneurysms are operated only if there is a high risk of rupture, as surgical complications are severe. Here, the doctor will advise the patients to lower the risk of such aneurysms from rupturing, like controlling blood pressure.

What Are the Complications of an Aneurysm?

Aneurysms can be fatal if they rupture. Symptoms that result from a ruptured aneurysm are:

  • Aortic aneurysm rupture - Severe chest or back pain.

  • Angina - A type of chest pain that can also cause a heart attack.

  • Brain aneurysm rupture - Extreme headache.

How Can an Aneurysm Be Prevented?

Some tips that can help prevent an aneurysm are:

  • Eating healthily.

  • Your diet should contain a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Consume lean meat and low-fat dairy products.

  • Exercising regularly can help good blood circulation and blood flow to the heart and blood vessels.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Go for regular checkups.

For more information, consult a doctor online.

Last reviewed at:
03 Oct 2019  -  5 min read

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