Thoracic Aortic Aneurisms:
What Are The Risks?

Thoracic aortic aneurisms (TAA) are a life-threatening condition causing many deaths per year. Unfortunately it is possible to be at risk without even knowing it.

What Is A Thoracic Aortic Aneurism?

Thoracic aortic aneurisms include a number of specific types of aneurisms that occur on the part of the aorta close to the heart. Each is named for its location on the aorta.

The aorta is the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It is divided into four sections.

  • ascending aorta - projects upwards from the heart
  • aortic arch – forms an arch at the highest point
  • descending thoracic aorta - passes downward through the chest
  • abdominal aorta - travels through the abdomen

The average diameter of the aorta is about an inch – 2.5 centimeters. When the aorta swells to 3.5 centimeters it is considered dilated. When the swelling reaches 4.5 centimeters it is considered an aneurism.

When an aneurism occurs on the aorta it is called an aortic aneurism. If it occurs on the section of the aorta called the "abdominal aorta" it is an abdominal aortic aneurism (AAA). You can read about AAAs by returning to the main aneurisms page.

When an aneurism occurs on any of the first three sections of the aorta that are listed above it is known as a thoracic aortic aneurism. This latter type is our focus at this time.

What Are The Types Of Thoracic Aortic Aneurisms?

Ascending Aortic Aneurism 

As mention above, a thoracic aneurism gets its name from the part of the aorta where it exits. When the swelling is found on the part of the aorta that rises from the heart – the ascending aorta – it is called an ascending aortic aneurism.

Typically these aneurisms cause leakage of the aortic valve - the heart valve that divides the left ventricle and the aorta. In severe cases symptoms may include…

  • shortness of breath
  • heart failure
  • a dull pain in the chest radiating to the upper back

Aortic Arch Aneurism

Aneurisms occurring on the aortic arch - the section where the aorta arches to begin its descent through the lower chest - are of course called aortic arch aneurisms. This variety can cause chest pains as well. Large aneurisms can also compress the esophagus causing difficulty in swallowing.

Descending Thoracic Aneurism

Aneurisms occurring on the portion of the aorta that descends from its highest point are known as descending thoracic aneurisms. These rarely produce symptoms. Occasionally they can produce back pain.

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What Are The Risks?

In spite of the possibility of symptoms it is an unfortunate fact that most are asymptomatic. This is unfortunate because there is often little or no warning that a problem exists. At least that is the case as long as the aneurisms remain stable. 

Rupture or dissection - tearing of the aortic wall - produces dramatic results. Victims often experience a ripping sensation in the chest accompanied by severe pain between the shoulder blades. They may be dizzy and find it difficult to walk and speak.

When severe symptoms like dizziness and difficulty walking or speaking are present it indicates an emergency situation. About half of the patients experiencing a rupture or dissection die before reaching the hospital. Of those who do make it to the emergency room between 25% and 50% die during surgical repair.

This is especially true for aneurisms located along the ascending aorta or the aortic arch. On the other hand, patients who have aneurisms treated electively - prior to rupture - have nearly a 95% survival rate.

Many of the causes and influencing factors of thoracic aortic aneurisms are known. And there are treatments varying from lifestyle changes that can help prevent aneurism development and rupture to invasive surgical methods for their removal.

Because of the high risks and the frequent absence of symptoms associated with aneurisms it is extremely important to be informed. For more information on thoracic aortic aneurisms please see the links below:

Thoracic Aneurism Causes

Diagnosing a Thoracic Aortic Aneurism

Treatments for Thoracic Aortic Aneurisms

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