An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement (dilation) of the aorta to greater than 1.5 times normal size. They usually cause no symptoms except when ruptured. Occasionally, there may be abdominal, back, or leg pain. They are most commonly located in the abdominal aorta, but can also be located in the thoracic aorta. Aortic aneurysms cause weakness in the wall of the aorta and increase the risk of aortic rupture. When rupture occurs, massive internal bleeding results and, unless treated immediately, shock and death can occur. Screening with ultrasound is indicated in those at high risk. Prevention is by decreasing risk factors such as smoking. Treatment is either by open or endovascular surgery. Aortic aneurysms resulted in about 152,000 deaths in 2013, up from 100,000 in 1990.

Most intact aortic aneurysms do not produce symptoms. As they enlarge, symptoms such as abdominal pain and back pain may develop. Compression of nerve roots may cause leg pain or numbness. Untreated, aneurysms tend to become progressively larger, although the rate of enlargement is unpredictable for any individual. Rarely, clotted blood which lines most aortic aneurysms can break off and result in an embolus. Aneurysms can be found on physical examination. Medical imaging is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the anatomic extent of the aneurysm. In patients presenting with aneurysm of the arch of the aorta, a common sign is a hoarse voice from stretching of the left recurrent laryngeal nerve, a branch of the vagus nerve that winds around the aortic arch to supply the muscles of the larynx. Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are more common than their thoracic counterpart. One reason for this is that elastin, the principal load-bearing protein present in the wall of the aorta, is reduced in the abdominal aorta as compared to the thoracic aorta. Another is that the abdominal aorta does not possess vasa vasorum, the nutrient-supplying blood vessels within the wall of the aorta. Most AAA are true aneurysms that involve all three layers (tunica intima, tunica media and tunica adventitia). The prevalence of AAAs increases with age, with an average age of 65–70 at the time of diagnosis. AAAs have been attributed to atherosclerosis, though other factors are involved in their formation. The risk of rupture of an AAA is related to its diameter; once the aneurysm reaches about 5 cm, the yearly risk of rupture may exceed the risks of surgical repair for an average-risk patient. Rupture risk is also related to shape; so-called fusiform (long) aneurysms are considered less rupture prone than saccular (shorter, bulbous) aneurysms, the latter having more wall tension in a particular location in the aneurysm wall. Before rupture, an AAA may present as a large, pulsatile mass above the umbilicus. A bruit may be heard from the turbulent flow in the aneurysm. Unfortunately, however, rupture may be the first hint of AAA. Once an aneurysm has ruptured, it presents with classic symptoms of abdominal pain which is severe, constant, and radiating to the back. The diagnosis of an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be confirmed at the bedside by the use of ultrasound. Rupture may be indicated by the presence of free fluid in the abdomen. A contrast-enhanced abdominal CT scan is the best test to diagnose an AAA and guide treatment options. Only 10–25% of patients survive rupture due to large pre- and post-operative mortality. Annual mortality from ruptured aneurysms in the United States is about 15,000. Most are due to abdominal aneurysms, with thoracic and thoracoabdominal aneurysms making up 1% to 4% of the total. An aortic aneurysm can rupture from wall weakness. Aortic rupture is a surgical emergency, and has a high mortality even with prompt treatment. Weekend admission for ruptured aortic aneurysm is associated with an increased mortality compared with admission on a weekday, and this is likely due to several factors including a delay in prompt surgical intervention.

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