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Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, delivering oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. "Thoracic" refers to the part of the aorta that runs through the chest. Over time, the weakened area in the aortic wall balloons and is at risk for bursting (rupture) or separating (dissection), which can cause life-threatening bleeding and potentially death.

Symptoms

Like abdominal aortic aneurysms, thoracic aortic aneurysms may not cause symptoms until the aneurysm begins to leak or expand. Chest or back pain may indicate expansion or leakage of the aneurysm, which requires emergency care. Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the jaw, neck, or upper back
  • Wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath as a result of pressure on the trachea (windpipe)
  • Hoarseness as a result of pressure on the vocal cords
  • Trouble swallowing due to pressure on the esophagus

Symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm may look like other conditions. See your doctor for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis

A chest X-ray or chest CT scan can detect most non-leaking thoracic aneurysms, though additional tests may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.

Treatments

The size and symptoms of the thoracic aneurysm determine treatment. Small aneurysms with no symptoms may be monitored and followed with imaging tests at regular intervals. Once an aneurysm reaches a certain size, the increased risk of rupture warrants treatment. Treatment may include conventional surgical repair or minimally invasive thoracic endovascular aneurysm repair (TEVAR).