What is an aortic aneurysm repair?

Aortic aneurysm repair is surgery to fix an aortic aneurysm. An aortic aneurysm is a weakened area in the aorta. Your aorta is the main blood vessel (artery) leaving your heart and passing down through your chest and abdomen (belly). With time, a weakened area can grow, stretch, and balloon outward. Left untreated, an aortic aneurysm can burst and bleed heavily. Aortic aneurysm repair prevents or treats this life-threatening condition.

Aortic aneurysm repair involves removing or reinforcing the diseased part of your aorta with synthetic material, called a graft.

Aortic aneurysm repair is a major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having an aortic aneurysm repair.

Types of aortic aneurysm repair

The types of aortic aneurysm repair procedures include:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm repair (AAA repair) repairs an aortic aneurysm that occurs in the part of your aorta that is in your abdomen (belly). This is the most common type of aortic aneurysm.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm repair repairs an aortic aneurysm that occurs in the part of your aorta that is in your chest.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to aortic aneurysm repair. This is most common with thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysm repairs. 

Additional procedures may include:

  • Aortic valve repair or replacement, which you may need if the aneurysm is close to your heart. The aortic valve opens to allow blood to leave your heart and closes to prevent blood from flowing back into your heart.
  • Heart surgery, which you may need if heart disease has contributed to your aortic aneurysm

Why is aortic aneurysm repair performed? 

Your doctor may recommend an aortic aneurysm repair to treat an aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm is a weakened area in a blood vessel wall that widens and bulges. Over time, this weakened area can grow, stretch, and balloon outward. Aneurysms are serious health conditions because they can burst and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. 

Aneurysms can occur in any blood vessel in your body, but they most commonly occur in the aorta. Your aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from your heart. It passes down through the chest and abdomen (belly). A ruptured or burst aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency. Few people survive a ruptured aortic aneurysm. This is because it causes rapid, massive blood loss.

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of aortic aneurysms. Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque inside arteries. It can lead to blood vessel narrowing and hardening of the arteries. This can weaken the wall of the artery. Other causes of aortic aneurysm include smoking, high blood pressure, trauma, and congenital (present at birth) defects.

Your doctor may watch your aneurysm over a period of time. Your doctor may prescribe medication to slow the growth of the aneurysm or lower your blood pressure. This reduces pressure on the aneurysm. 

Many aortic aneurysms eventually need surgical repair. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and the timing of your repair. Consider getting a second opinion if your situation is not an emergency before deciding on an aortic aneurysm repair.  

Your doctor may recommend aortic aneurysm repair if your aneurysm is:

  • Causing symptoms. Most aortic aneurysms do not cause symptoms. When they occur, symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may include abdominal (belly) pain, low back pain, or feeling your heartbeat in your abdomen. Symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm may include chest pain, back pain, neck or jaw pain, coughing, hoarseness, and difficulty breathing. Having symptoms may be a sign that your aortic aneurysm is about to burst. This is a medical emergency.
  • Growing rapidly, about ¼ inch over the last six to 12 months
  • Interfering with blood flow to other areas of your body, such as your legs
  • Larger than two inches, or about five centimeters
  • Leaking blood into the layers of the walls of your aorta (aortic dissection)
  • Rupturing. A ruptured or burst aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency. Symptoms of rupture include severe and sudden abdominal or back pain, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, pale and clammy skin, dry mouth, excessive thirst, and signs of shock. Signs of shock include weakness, dizziness, fainting, shaking, sweating, and rapid heartbeat.