What is an Aneurysm?

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An aneurysm occurs when part of an artery wall weakens, allowing it to abnormally balloon out or widen.

The causes of aneurysms are sometimes unknown. Some people are born with them. They can also be hereditary. Aortic disease or an injury may also cause an aneurysm.

A family history of aneurysm may increase your risk for developing an aneurysm. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and tobacco use.

Aneurysms can occur in any artery, but the most common are:

  • Aortic aneurysm occurs in the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the body.
  • Cerebral aneurysm occurs in an artery of the brain.
  • Popliteal artery aneurysm occurs in the artery behind the knee.
  • Mesenteric artery aneurysm occurs in the artery that supplies blood to the intestine.
  • Splenic artery aneurysm occurs in an artery of the spleen.

Learn more about the different types of aneurysms.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Aneurysms can develop over many years and often have no symptoms.

If an aneurysm expands quickly or ruptures, symptoms can vary based on the location and may develop suddenly. Depending on the site of the aneurysm, symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Pain in the abdomen or back
  • Pulsating abdominal mass
  • Blue coloration (cyanosis) of lower extremities
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • High-pitched breathing sound
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Chest or upper back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Shock (low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, clammy skin, decreased awareness)

Your health care professional can use an angiogram, MRICT scan or ultrasound test to diagnose an aneurysm.

Treatment and prevention

An aneurysm can become a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number and seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is having aneurysm signs and symptoms. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with an unruptured aneurysm, work with your health care professional to monitor any changes to the aneurysm. Your condition may require regular checkups depending on the aneurysm’s size and location. 

Some aneurysms may require surgery to reinforce the artery wall with a stent. When the aneurysm has ballooned out the side of the blood vessel, a clip or coiling procedure may close off the area.

Lower your risk

To lower your risks for an aneurysm, maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout your life. Some steps include: