The aorta is the largest artery of the body. Connected to the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, it helps to transport oxygen-rich blood throughout the circulatory system. Sometimes diseases can occur in the abdominal (stomach area) and thoracic (chest area) parts of the aorta ‒ the most common being an aortic aneurysm.
Aneurysms, a stretching or ballooning of the artery wall, are a cause for great concern as they may tear and/or burst. These two critical situations may result in bleeding and potentially lead to death. However, with proper cardiovascular care and diligent medical surveillance, some smaller aneurysms may never pose any problems.
Aortic aneurysms often grow slowly over time and cause few symptoms. High blood pressure, valvular heart disease and sudden injuries are among the potential contributors to their development. Aneurysms can also form in patients who have hereditary disorders which affect their connective tissues, including Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Additionally, aneurysms tend to occur more frequently and grow more quickly as we age, so advancing age is also a risk factor.
The care of individuals with diseases of the abdominal and/or thoracic aorta demands a multidisciplinary approach to ensure appropriate medical attention. At NorthShore, our patients benefit from the coordinated care offered by our highly-integrated team. This cardiovascular team features expert cardiologists, geneticists, cardiovascular and vascular surgeons, and imaging specialists with vast experience diagnosing and treating aortic conditions such as dilation (enlargement), aneurysms, and dissections (when blood leaks in-between layers of the artery wall) of the aorta. Our highly-trained Cardiovascular Institute specialists work closely with primary care physicians for assistance in managing your care.
Generally people do not know until an aortic aneurysm tears or ruptures that they have this condition. Common signs of serious aortic disease include:
Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms Symptoms
- Sharp sudden pain in the chest or upper back
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pressure
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Symptoms
- A pulsating feeling, almost like a heartbeat, in your abdomen
- Severe, sudden pain in your abdomen
- Pain in the lower back
If these symptoms appear, it is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately for assistance.
Individuals with Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome should undergo routine surveillance imaging, even if they have no symptoms.
Aortic Aneurysm Diagnosis
The collaborative nature of our thoracic aorta program ensures coordinated, seamless care. If you suspect you have an aortic aneurysm, you will initially meet with one of our knowledgeable NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute physicians who will ask questions about your medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam.
At NorthShore, we offer advanced non-invasive three-dimensional imaging that allows us to precisely determine the extent of your aortic abnormality. With an accurate diagnosis, our multispecialty team can then begin to tailor a treatment plan to the severity of your disease. In certain cases, genetic testing and counseling can also help determine why the aneurysm occurred and if your family members might also be at risk of developing an aneurysm.
Aortic Aneurysm Treatment Options
Your physician may recommend medical management as an initial first step toward treating aortic disease. Beta-blocker therapy and anti-hypertensive drugs might be used to reduce stress against the aortic wall. Lifestyle changes could also be suggested. Smoking cessation, for example, is one factor shown to decrease the growth of aneurysms.
Patients in need of aortic surgery receive care from a dedicated group of NorthShore cardiovascular and vascular surgeons skilled in treating aortic conditions. The team provides evaluation, innovative surgical options and management for all types of acute and chronic aortic problems, including:
We offer state-of-the-art hybrid procedures that meld traditional surgical approaches and intravascular stent grafting to minimize potential complications and to shorten recovery after complex aortic repair. In addition, sophisticated circulatory techniques such as hypothermic circulatory arrest and retrograde cerebral perfusion can be used to maximize patient outcomes.
Our compassionate professionals also provide close follow-up care for patients to achieve excellent long-term results. For individuals whose aortic disease is related to Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, we can arrange family counseling and medical genetic evaluations.
For More Information
Please call 847.570.2250 for more information on aortic aneurysms or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.