• Minnesota

    Aortic Aneurysms: New Treatments, Better Management Reduce Risks

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Surgical improvements and better management have led to a 36 percent reduction in deaths from aortic aneurysms, according to the February issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

The aorta is the largest artery in the body; it exits the top of your heart and curves down through the chest and abdomen. Other major arteries branch from it, supplying blood to the brain, arms, internal organs and legs. An aneurysm occurs when an area along the vessel wall becomes weak or damaged, causing a section of the artery to enlarge.

Most aneurysms are small, grow slowly and don't cause any symptoms. Typically, they are discovered when imaging is done for another health concern. The danger of an aortic aneurism is that it may burst or tear, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. A bursting aortic aneurysm is fatal 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Because small aneurysms pose very little risk of bursting, doctors often recommend a "watch-and-wait" approach. Imaging tests are recommended once or twice a year to monitor for changes. If the aneurysm grows to 5 centimeters (cm) for women or 5.5 cm for men, the risk of rupture climbs rapidly. A physician will likely recommend treatment options.

For 60 percent of patients requiring aneurysm repairs, the procedure can be done through a small incision in the groin or through a small puncture in the lower abdomen that's closed with a simple bandage. Most patients leave the hospital the next day and recovery fully in a couple of weeks.

Open surgery remains the best option in certain situations. This durable repair requires less follow-up than minimally invasive procedures and may be recommended for younger patients. Typically, patients are hospitalized for about five days and recover over several weeks.

People with aortic aneurysms can minimize the risk of growth and rupture by maximizing artery and heart health. Recommendations include:

  • Stopping smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Addressing hypertension and cholesterol levels, which may require a combination of improving diet, exercise and certain medications.
  • Getting regular, moderate exercise, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, and avoiding long periods of strenuous activity that could cause prolonged elevation of blood pressure.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit Mayo Clinic Health Letter Online.