An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement or dilation of the aorta. The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It begins at the heart and curves to run along the spine and provides blood flow to all major organs in the body. An aneurysm causes stretching and thinning of the layers of the artery and this thinning can result ultimately in a rupture, which is a life threatening event. Aneurysms may occur anywhere in the aorta; however they are most commonly seen in the lower aorta in the abdomen. Most people do not have any symptoms with an aortic aneurysm, but may notice a throbbing or pulsing area above the belly button. Rarely, the aneurysm may have some inflammation around it that causes the area to be tender or painful. When these aneurysms become very large, they may produce some back discomfort due to pressure near the spine. If they do burst, they usually produce severe pain and sweating and patients are acutely aware that something is wrong. Finally aneurysms often contain sand-like deposits inside the artery due to the currents that are produced as they enlarge. Occasionally these particles can dislodge and go downstream to produce symptoms such as blue areas on the toes.
One kind of aneurysm is a dissecting aneurysm, which results from a tear in the layers of the artery wall. This tear happens suddenly and patients usually have pain that is severe. This type of problem requires immediate attention in the hospital.
More Answers from Stephen R Hazelrigg, MD