Aneurysm 101

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An aneurysm is an abnormal widening or ballooning in a blood vessel. It’s usually caused by weakness in the wall of that blood vessel.

The most common types of aneurysms are:

Aortic aneurysms

There are two types of aortic aneurysms: thoracic and abdominal aorta. The more common of the two is an abdominal aorta aneurysm. An abdominal aneurysm is the localised dilation of the part of the aorta situated in the abdomen.

Cerebral aneurysm

A cerebral aneurysm occurs in the wall of a vein or artery located in the brain. If it ruptures it can cause a stroke.

Peripheral aneurysms

These occur in arteries other than the aorta. Common locations include the artery that runs down the back of the thigh behind the knee, the main artery in the groin area and the main artery in the neck. These are less likely to rupture but can cause blood clots. If a blood clot breaks away it can block blood flow in a part of the artery further away.

What causes it?

The most common disease associated with the formation of aneurysms is atherosclerosis, which is a vascular disease (a disease of the blood vessel).Other, much less common diseases that may lead to aneurysms are arteritis (inflammation of the arteries), syphilis and congenital connective tissue disorders like Marfan's syndrome. These may result in weakened areas on the blood vessel wall.Constant high blood pressure can cause an aneurysm to form where a blood vessel wall has a weak spot.

What are the symptoms?

  • Most aortic aneurysms are small and don’t produce any symptoms.
  • Some aneurysms can cause a small pulsating mass near the navel.
  • Growing aneurysms can become tender and may cause pain in the lower back or abdomen.
  • A large aneurysm may apply pressure on the abdominal organs surrounding it and may even cause tissue damage to these organs, which is often painful.
  • A cerebral aneurysm may cause the following symptoms: a droopy eyelid, sudden severe headache, intense neck stiffness, double-vision, nausea and vomiting.
  • Symptoms associated with peripheral aneurysms are: a throbbing lump felt in the neck, arm or leg, pain in the leg or arm, painful sores on the toes or fingers, and gangrene.

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