Aneurysm Chapter 1

What is an Aneurysm? (VIDEO)

Aneurysms are balloonlike bulges that can form in your arteries. Some aneurysms may stay small and cause no trouble, you may never even know you have one. But others can be deadly: a burst aortic aneurysm can prove fatal in mere minutes. View aneurysms close up, see where they occur and how they're treated, and learn how they can be prevented.

Aneurysms Explained

Circulatory System
Your circulatory system is composed of no fewer than 65,000 miles of blood vessels, arteries, veins, and capillaries, some as wide as a garden hose, some so fine that it would take ten of them lying side by side to form the thickness of a human hair. Together they transport about 6 qts of blood throughout your entire body at the dizzying rate of three times every minute. Arteries carry blood away from the heart to the capillaries, where nutrients and oxygen flow out into the tissues. The veins collect the de-oxygenated blood from the capillaries and carry it back to the heart for replenishment. Because your blood vessels need to work under powerful pressure, they're normally strong, flexible, and resilient. Read more

Where Aneurysms Happen

Aneurysms can occur in both veins and arteries, but they are much more common in arteries. The abdominal and thoracic (chest) aortas are the most frequent locations for arterial aneurysms.

Aortic Aneurysm
The aorta is the biggest blood vessel in your body and supplies blood to the arteries of all your limbs and organs, except your lungs. It's normally about the width of a garden hose, and runs directly out of your heart's left ventricle and down through the center of your body into your abdomen. There it branches into the two common iliac arteries. Read more

Head & Neck Aneurysms

Cerebral Aneurysm
Cerebral aneurysms can occur in anyone at any age, but they are most common in adults age 30-60 and are slightly more common in women than in men. An unruptured cerebral aneurysm can cause problems by putting pressure on a nerve or on surrounding brain tissue, causing pain near the eye, vision changes, numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of the face. Many cerebral aneurysms are small and don't cause any problems, but all have the potential to rupture and cause bleeding in the brain. Cerebral aneurysms are considered to be small if they are less than about .4 inches (1.1 cm), and giant if they are over 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size. Read more

Risk Factors

Why do aneurysms develop? There may be a number of reasons. Aneurysms may be caused by a hereditary defect, such as Marfan syndrome, or by aging: as our bodies age, our blood vessels lose some of their strength and resilience. But the most common cause of aneurysms is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which weakens the walls of the blood vessels. Other causes include inflammatory diseases and some infectious diseases, like syphilis. Smoking and high blood pressure increase the risk of an aneurysm. Smoking not only contributes to atherosclerosis, it also causes aneurysms to grow more quickly. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the likelihood an aneurysm will rupture. Read more

Symptoms, Tests, and Diagnosis

Aneurysms usually have no symptoms and so may go undetected for years, especially if they lie within the body or brain. When the aneurysm is near the body surface, a swelling or throbbing mass may be seen. If the aneurysm compresses neighboring structures, like nerves, there may be weakness or numbness. Read more

Aneurysm Complications

The main complications of aneurysm are rupture and dissection, infection, and clotting.

Rupture: Aortic Aneurysm
Rupture is the most dangerous complication of an aortic aneurysm. When an aneurysm ruptures, blood pressure may plummet, heart rate may increase, and the patient may feel dizzy and weak. If the bleeding is severe, he or she may go into shock. Read more

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

Open-Abdominal Synthetic Graft
The open-abdominal synthetic graft is the traditional surgery for an aortic aneurysm and has been performed for about 50 years. It has proven to be reliable, but it is a highly invasive treatment and requires open-abdominal or open-chest surgery. In it, an incision is made from below the breastbone to just below the navel. The damaged portion of the artery is removed and the graft, a synthetic tube, is stitched into place. The incision is then closed. The surgery itself takes 3-6 hours, and the hospital stay is normally about 7-10 days. Risks of this surgery may include heart attack, irregular heartbeats, bleeding, stroke, paralysis due to injury of the spinal cord, graft infection, and kidney damage. Read more

Cerebral Aneurysm Surgery

If the cerebral aneurysm is small—less than 1/2 inch (1 cm)—then the doctor may advise only monitoring to detect growth or onset of symptoms. Cerebral surgery is risky. It can pose some of the same dangers that a ruptured aneurysm can, if the aneurysm ruptures during surgery and bleeding cannot be controlled: stroke, disability, and death. Read more


The best way to prevent aneurysms is to keep your blood vessels as healthy as possible. That means:

  • Quitting if you smoke
  • Keeping your blood pressure under control
  • Exercising regularly
  • Reducing cholesterol and fat in your diet
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation

In terms of medical care, the most important aspect is to identify aneurysms early and then monitor them closely. But there are some medications that may prove useful in preventing or treating aneurysms. Read more

Related Health Centers:

Aneurysm and Stent, Angioplasty, Arrhythmia, Cardiovascular Continuum, Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis, Coronary Bypass Surgery, Heart Attack and Angina, Hypertension, Stroke, Thrombosis and Embolism, Women and Cardiovascular Health

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.