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What to Know About Aortic Aneurysms and the Sudden Death of Soccer Journalist Grant Wahl

Thursday, December 15, 2022 1:34 PM

The sudden death of veteran sports reporter Grant Wahl, 49, who collapsed while covering the World Cup in Qatar, was alarming to so many of us. The autopsy revealed that he died from an aortic aneurysm, meaning a blood vessel leading from his heart that carries oxygenated blood, had ruptured.

Arman Qamar, MD, a cardiologist with the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, said smoking and a family history of aortic disease are two known risk factors for developing one.

Read on for more information:

What is an aortic aneurysm?

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta, the body's main artery. The aorta carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Because the section with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, it can burst. If the aorta bursts, it can cause serious bleeding that can quickly lead to death.

Man with chest pain suffering from heart attack while sitting at home during the day.Aneurysms can form in any section of the aorta.

An aortic dissection happens when there is a tear in the wall of the aorta. 

What causes it?

The wall of the aorta is normally very elastic. It can stretch and then shrink back as needed to adapt to blood flow. But some medical problems, such as atherosclerosis and certain infections, weaken the artery walls. These problems, along with the natural wear and tear of aging, can cause an aneurysm. Certainly genetic risk factors predispose patients to an increased risk of aortic aneurysms.

What are the symptoms?

Most aortic aneurysms don't cause symptoms. But symptoms may occur if the aneurysm gets bigger. The most common symptoms include belly, chest, or back pain that may spread to the groin, buttocks, or legs. The pain may be deep, aching, or throbbing. If the aneurysm bursts, or ruptures, it causes sudden, severe pain.

How is it diagnosed?

Aneurysms are often diagnosed by chance during tests done for other reasons. In some cases, they are found during a screening test for aneurysms. If your doctor thinks you have an aneurysm, you may have tests such as an ultrasound or CT scan to find out where it is and how big it is. The screening for either thoracic aortic aneurysm or the abdominal aortic aneurysm is frequently considered in those with family history of aneurysms, or significant history of smoking.

How is an aortic aneurysm treated?

An aortic aneurysm may be repaired with surgery or a procedure if the aneurysm is at risk of bursting open (rupturing). If you have symptoms, a large aneurysm, or a fast-growing aneurysm, you need surgery to fix it.

If you are looking for expert cardiac care, click here to read about the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute or call 847.864.3278 to make an appointment.