Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

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The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It starts in the chest and runs down into the abdomen, where it branches into the iliac arteries. The iliac arteries carry blood to the lower parts of the body and to the legs. Sometimes, with aging or other changes, a section of the aorta may weaken and begin to bulge.

This bulge can get larger over time as the walls of the aorta get thinner and stretch like a balloon. This bulge in the aorta is called an aneurysm.

Sometimes an aneurysm occurs in the part of the aorta that runs through the chest. This is called a thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA).

Is this a serious condition ?

When a TAA is small, it may not be an immediate heath risk. However, your doctor will want to check its condition regularly. If the TAA continues to grow, the aorta's walls can become thin and less able to stretch. Eventually the stretched sections may become too weak to support the force of blood flow. This type of aneurysm could burst, causing serious internal bleeding.

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What are some of the symptoms of a TAA?

Unfortunately, most patients with a TAA have no symptoms. For people who do hve symptoms, the symptoms include, but are limited to back and chest pain, trouble breathing or swallowing and hoarse coughing. Many patients feel none of these symptoms, yet may have a TAA. A TAA is often found during an examination done for other medical reasons. Most often, aneurysms are found during a medical test such as a CT scan, ultrasound or angiogram.
If you know you have a TAA and you develop back pain, chest pain or diziness, call your doctor right away.

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What causes a TAA ?

Overtime, vascular disease, injury or an inherited defect of tissue within the arterial wall can cause the aorta to weaken. Blood pressure against the weakened area can cause it to stretch and grow thinner, like a balloon.
Risk factors for developing an aneurysm include, but may not be limited to, family history, smoking, heart disease, trauma and high blood pressure. If you are at risk for developing an aneurysm, your doctor may suggest periodic checks. The checks could include a physical exam and possibly a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound.