Each time your heart beats, it pumps freshly oxygenated blood to your chest and torso, where it connects with other arteries and carries it to your organs and throughout the rest of your body.
It’s an efficient system when all the arteries are healthy, but if you have hypertension, high cholesterol, or atherosclerosis, your aortic artery can sustain serious damage and develop an aortic aneurysm.
An aortic aneurysm occurs when the artery bulges under the stress of weakened tissue and high blood pressure. Since most aortic aneurysms occur in the elderly, our large team of experts at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates highly recommends routine screening for our patients aged 65-75, especially for smokers.
We have four locations throughout New York and one in New Jersey, so getting screened is convenient.
If an aortic aneurysm dissects — meaning the arterial wall splits and bleeds — or ruptures, it becomes a life-threatening emergency. About 10,000 people die every year due to aortic aneurysms.
Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the path of the aortic artery. If it appears in the chest area, it’s called a thoracic aortic aneurysm; if it’s lower, it’s called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Fortunately, when we detect either type of aneurysm early, treatments are very effective. Here’s what to expect.
Medications for aortic aneurysms
Treatment for your aortic aneurysm depends on the underlying cause, it’s size and location, and your overall health.
In most cases of very small aneurysms, we monitor you closely with regular imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance angiography. When hypertension and/or high cholesterol are the culprits, we typically prescribe medications to control those conditions. They include:
- Statins to lower your cholesterol and help unblock your arteries
- Beta blockers to lower your blood pressure
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers to address hypertension if you can’t take beta blockers or they aren’t effective enough
If you’re a smoker, you should quit for multiple health reasons, but especially if you have an aortic aneurysm. Studies show that smoking tobacco not only increases your risk for developing the condition, but worsens existing aortic aneurysms.
A word about Marfan syndrome
A genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome affects the development and integrity of the connective tissue throughout your body. It also puts you at a higher risk for an aortic aneurysm.
If you have this condition, even in the absence of other risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, the same medications can help. Beta blockers and angiotensin II receptor blockers can slow the expansion and weakening of your aortic walls.
Surgical intervention for aortic aneurysms
If your aortic aneurysm is fairly large — between 1.9 and 2.4 inches — we may recommend surgical repair. Surgery may also be the best course of treatment if you have Marfan syndrome or if you’re at significant risk for dissection or rupture.
The type of surgery we perform depends on whether the aneurysm is located in your abdominal or thoracic region.
Most cases of thoracic aortic aneurysms require open-chest surgery. In this case, we remove the damaged section and replace it with a graft.
If you also have Marfan syndrome, we may recommend an aortic root replacement, which means we not only remove the damaged section of the artery but the aortic valve as well, and implant a biological or mechanical replacement.
Whenever possible, we perform an endovascular surgical procedure, which is much less invasive.
To do this, we insert a long, thin tube into an artery in your groin and guide it through to your damaged aorta. The tip of the instrument delivers a small mesh graft that hooks into place over the aneurysm and reinforces the area. The goal with this procedure is to prevent a future rupture.
To avoid surgery or any of the complications of aortic aneurysms, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists today.
Call us at any of our New York locations in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, or the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, or our office in Englewood, New Jersey. You can also use our online booking tool.