Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Having to move to a new city and change jobs is difficult for most people but not as tough as it has become for NBA player, Jeff Green. After being traded from Oklahoma City to Boston, his career has come to a grinding halt because a routine preseason physical exam found some not so routine results. An echocardiogram, or ultrasound, of Mr. Green's heart detected an aortic aneurysm, which is an abnormal bulging of the main artery that leads from the heart to the rest of his body. He underwent successful surgery to repair the problem in January 2012. Without repair, the aorta can leak or rupture, potentially causing sudden death.
Usually, aortic aneurysms are found in older people and are associated with hypertension or high blood pressure. The increased force of blood being pushed from the heart against the walls of the aorta combined with a gradual breakdown of the protein and elastic fibers in the blood vessel wall causes a weak spot to form. When a portion of the aorta weakens, it can balloon out just like a tire wall can have a weak spot that balloons out. In younger patients, the mechanism is different, and a couple of different risk factors are present. With Marfan syndrome, a gene mutation can cause an abnormal protein in the building blocks that make up the aorta and this leads to weakened arterial walls. Another alternative cause is an abnormal aortic valve, the one way valve that allows every heart beat to squeeze blood from the heart into the aorta.