Understanding these vascular and heart conditions
An aneurysm is a ballooning or expansion of a blood vessel. Aneurysms most often develop in arteries, though they also can develop in veins or even inside the heart.
Expert Heart & Vascular Care
Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our heart or vascular specialists.
An aneurysm develops when a blood vessel is weakened. This can be caused by certain birth defects, genetic predisposition, smoking, aortic dissection and other reasons. The weaker blood vessel allows the pressure of blood flowing through it to bulge the vessel’s wall outward.
The single greatest risk factor for developing an aneurysm is smoking. Smoking is also a strong risk factor for an aneurysm bursting. High blood pressure or atherosclerosis also can increase your risk for an aneurysm.
Our vascular surgeons and cardiac surgeons have a great deal of experience treating aneurysms. The MedStar Vascular and Endovascular Program and the Cardiac Surgery Program are the largest and most experienced programs in the mid-Atlantic region.
What are the types of aneurysms?
There are several types of aneurysms, depending on where they form in the body. These types include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Aortic arch aneurysm
- Aortic aneurysm
- Aortic root aneurysm
- Ascending aortic aneurysm
- Arterial aneurysm
- Carotid aneurysm
- Extracranial carotid artery aneurysm
- Left ventricular aneurysm
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm
- Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm
- Venous aneurysm
- Ventricular aneurysm
- Visceral artery aneurysm
What are the symptoms of aneurysms?
Aneurysms can develop for years without causing symptoms. Most aneurysms don’t cause any noticeable symptoms unless they burst or have grown large enough to either block blood flow or press against other body parts. Symptoms of an aneurysm may include:
- Coughing, wheezing or trouble swallowing
- Low blood pressure
- Pain in the abdomen, back or chest
- Poor circulation to the feet
- Sweaty or clammy feeling
Aneurysms can be life-threatening, especially if they form in the aorta (the main artery that carries blood from the heart). Aneurysms also can grow large enough to affect the blood’s circulation and lead to blood clots, especially in the legs.
Call 911 right away if you think you have an aneurysm that has burst.
Abdominal duplex ultrasound is a combination of a traditional and Doppler ultrasound that assesses the blood vessels in your abdomen for blockages or aneurysms.
An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.
Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.
Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart and chest wall.
The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.
An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.
Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.
Transesophageal echocardiogram allows us to take very detailed images of your heart structure from a probe in your esophagus.
Our heart and vascular teams work together and with other specialties to develop and implement individualized plans to treat a wide variety of conditions. This could include lifestyle modifications, medication or more advanced treatments.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm treatments include monitoring, medication or surgery to place a graft that reduces pressure on the walls of the aorta where the aneurysm exists.
Aneurysm surgery is used to repair bulges in blood vessels after they have ruptured or to prevent them from rupturing. Surgery may take several approaches: traditional open surgery, a minimally invasive endovascular method or a hybrid of the two.
Treating an aortic dissection can include medication, minimally invasive procedures or open surgery.
Deep hypothermic circulatory arrest is used to cool the body and stop blood circulation during surgery on the large blood vessels that lead to or from the brain.