Before we talk about aneurysms, let’s talk about our vascular system. Our vascular system is made up of various types of blood vessels. Blood vessels circulate blood throughout our body. Blood vessels include veins, arteries and capillaries, as well as arterioles and venules. Our blood vessels have a tube-like shape that form a closed circuit, similar to a loop, which begins and ends at our heart. For our purposes, we will be focusing on arteries.
The arteries carry oxygenated blood away from our heart to the rest of our body. They have thick, flexible walls, and handle a large amount of force and pressure from blood flow, but not a large volume of blood. Our blood must be able to flow freely throughout our body without the threat of blockages or ruptures. It is vital to our survival. An aneurysm is one of the conditions that can occur that can threaten our blood vessels from doing their job.
An aneurysm is a ballooning, or bulging of a weakened part of an artery. Here are some examples of aneurysms:
- Aortic aneurysm – The major blood vessel the carries blood from your heart to major organs.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm – The section of aorta that passes through your abdomen.
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm – The section of aorta that passes through your chest.
- Brain aneurysm – Blood vessels supplying blood to your brain.
- Peripheral aneurysm – Blood vessels in other parts of your body, such as your neck, groin or legs.
Untreated aneurysms can rupture, leading to internal bleeding. They can also cause blood clots that block the flow of blood in the artery. If a portion of the clot breaks off, depending on where it originated, it can travel to your lungs or your brain. A rupture or a blood clot can be life threatening depending on the location.
Whether the aneurysms cause symptoms or not, often depends on its location. Some do not produce symptoms until they rupture. A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately. Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm come on suddenly. A person may feel:
- They may experience a rapid heartbeat
- They may have sudden severe pain in the head, chest, abdomen or back
- They may lose consciousness after complaining of a severe headache
When an aneurysm causes symptoms, the signs can depend on its location. You might notice a drop in blood pressure, which may be a sign of shock, or the person may feel “clammy” or disoriented. They may also have a racing heart. Other symptoms can include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dizziness or confusion
- Pain in abdomen, chest or back
- Pulsating abdominal mass
- Swelling in the neck
- Vision changes
If you have symptoms, your healthcare provider will do tests to find and diagnose the aneurysm. Those may include:
- CT scan
- CT or MRI angiography
There are different types of aneurysms based on how if forms and how large it is. Your healthcare provider will determine the classification based on tests and imaging results. The type of aneurysm will determine the course of treatment which your healthcare provider will discuss with you.
Living a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of many diseases and conditions. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.
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