Aneurysms

An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning greater than 50 percent of the normal diameter. An aneurysm may occur in any blood vessel, but is most often seen in an artery rather than a vein.

An aneurysm may be located in many areas of the body, such as blood vessels of the brain, the aorta (the largest artery in the body), the intestines, the kidney, the spleen, and the vessels in the legs. The most common location of an aneurysm is the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body.

Because an aneurysm may continue to increase in size, along with progressive weakening of the artery wall, surgical intervention may be needed. Preventing rupture of an aneurysm is one of the goals of therapy. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the greater the risk of rupture (bursting). With rupture, life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding) and possibly death may result.

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with aneurysms depend upon the location of the aneurysm in the body. The symptoms may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Symptoms that may occur with different types of aneurysms may include the following: 

Type of AneurysmSymptoms Associated with Aneurysm Type
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Constant pain in abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area
Cerebral Aneurysm Sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness
Common Iliac Aneurysm Lower abdominal, back, and/or groin pain
Femoral and Popliteal Artery Aneurysm Easily palpated (felt) pulsation of the artery located in the groin area (femoral artery) or on the back of the knee (popliteal artery)

Diagnosis

At UT Southwestern, your physician may request one or a combination of the following diagnostic procedures, in addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, to diagnose an aneurysm.

Arteriogram (angiogram) 
An X-ray image of the blood vessels used to evaluate various conditions, such as aneurysm, stenosis (narrowing of the blood vessel), or blockages. A dye (contrast) will be injected through a thin flexible tube placed in an artery. This dye will make the blood vessels visible on the X-ray.
Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) 
A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images, both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than standard x-rays.
Echocardiogram 
Also called echo, a procedure that evaluates the structure and function of the heart by using sound waves recorded on an electronic sensor which produces a moving picture of the heart and heart valves.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
Ultrasound 
Uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. An ultrasound is used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

Treatments

At UT Southwestern, treatment options for an aneurysm may include one or more of the following:

  • Controlling or modifying risk factors, such as quitting smoking, controlling blood sugar if diabetic, and losing weight if overweight or obese
  • Limiting dietary fat intake, which may help to control the progression of the aneurysm
  • Medication to control factors such as hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fats in the blood) and/or high blood pressure
  • Surgery