Autopsy Q&A by Dr. Stöppler

I will be 79 yrs old Feb. 18th. My younger sister, aged 75, died this past week, very suddenly. After an autopsy the doctor found an aneurysm on her main aorta. I would like to know if this is this something that runs in the family.


An aneurysm is an area of a localized widening (dilation) of a blood vessel. An aortic aneurysm involves the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Aortic aneurysms can develop anywhere along the length of the aorta in the chest or abdomen. The majority, however, are located along the abdominal aorta.

The greatest danger of aortic aneurysms is their tendency to rupture and lead to uncontrolled bleeding. Causes of aortic aneurysms include atherosclerosis ("hardening" of the arteries) and related factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol levels. There is also a familial tendency to developing abdominal aortic aneurysms. Individuals with first-degree relatives having abdominal aortic aneurysms have a higher risk of developing abdominal aortic aneurysm than the general population.

There are also rare inheritable genetic diseases of connective tissue (tissue that is contained within the wall of the aorta), such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan's syndrome, that can lead to the development of aortic aneurysms.

Thank you for your question.

Last Editorial Review: 1/12/2007

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