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Aorta Diseases

Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment Options | For More Information

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, providing blood from the left ventricle—the heart’s main pumping station—throughout the body. Sometimes aortic aneurysm, a stretching or ballooning of the aorta can occur in the thoracic (chest) or abdominal (stomach) areas. High blood pressure, valvular heart disease and sudden injuries are among the potential contributors to aneurysm development. You can also develop an aneurysm if you have a hereditary disorder that affects the connective tissues, including Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Most aneurysms are found incidentally on diagnostic imaging such ultra sounds and CT scans. Many patients with aneurysms don’t experience symptoms. Once diagnosed, an annual surveillance exam is recommended to check the size of the aneurysm. Individuals with Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome should undergo routine surveillance imaging, even if they have no symptoms.

In most cases, aneurysms grow slowly over time. In certain cases, they may rupture. If an aneurysm ruptures it becomes a medical emergency and requires immediate attention and treatment.


Signs and symptoms of a torn or ruptured aneurysm depend on the type of aneurysm.

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.


At NorthShore, we offer advanced noninvasive 3-dimensional imaging that allows us to precisely determine the extent of your aorta disease. 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.

Treatment Options

The care of individuals with diseases of the abdominal and/or thoracic aorta demands a multidisciplinary approach to ensure appropriate medical attention. At North Shore, 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 diseases of the aorta 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.

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.

We provide 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.

Your physician may recommend medical management with antihypertensive medication and aspirin therapy as an initial first step toward treating aortic disease. Life style modifications may also be recommended. Smoking cessation, for example, is one factor shown to decrease the growth of aneurysms.

For More Information

Please call 847.570.2250 for more information on aortic aneurysms or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.