What is an aneurysm?
Aneurysms occur in arteries, the main oxygen-carrying blood vessels of the body. Where there is a weakness in the arterial wall, the blood flow causes the artery to bulge.
Where can you get aneurysms?
The most common form of aneurysm is found in the aorta, in the part of it around the abdomen. The aorta is the body's biggest artery. If you are suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm you may feel deep pain in your lower back region. Where the aorta splits into two iliac arteries, around the kidney area, is where two-thirds of abdominal aneurysms are formed.
Thoracic aneurysms are found higher in the body, between the heart area and the diaphragm, and are much rarer than abdominal aneurysms.
Are aneurysms dangerous?
They can be. If the bulge in the blood vessel ruptures it can lead to rapid death. Other associated problems include blockages in the blood stream or infection of the aneurysm.
Am I likely to have an aneurysm?
As with any other medical condition, much depends on your general health and genetic disposition. Men are five times more likely to suffer from aneurysms than women, and you're more likely to have one if you're over the age of 60. Around five percent of men over the age of 60 will develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
What causes it?
The most common cause of aneurysm is arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This makes them less flexible and less able to cope with the volume of blood. Other causes include such factors as physical trauma.
Arterial hardening may be avoided partially through a healthy, balanced diet and through the cessation of smoking.
How is an aneurysm treated?
Surgery is often used to treat the problem once diagnosed (this is often done by ultrasound examination). Because rupture is not very common in aneurysms under five cm wide, surgery is normally used for aneurysms over six cm or more.
There is also the option of a "stent" for some patients. This is, in essence, a device that is entered into the artery which shields the aneurysm from the rest of the blood flow. Over time, the problem area then reduces in size.
Where can I get more information?
If you think that you have an aneurysm or at risk of one (for example, through family history), please consult your doctor in the first instance. Go straight to emergency admissions if you have severe pain from any source.
Article created by Jennie Meynell 21/10/04