by Kimberly Allen R.N.
An aneurysm is an abnormal ballooning of a blood vessel. They can occur in either an artery or vein, but are more common in arteries. Aneurysms are localized and involve only a small segment of the blood vessel. Aneurysms are more common in women than men as well as adults between 60-80 years of age. Aneurysms in children are considered rare.
There are also risk factors that can increase your chances of developing an aneurysm. Other medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension can increase your chances of developing an aneurysm especially if not well controlled. Other factors that can increase your chances of developing an aneurysm include alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity. There are also some types of congenital abnormalities that can result in aneurysms. It is estimated It is estimated that at least 13,000 people die from aortic aneurysms every year in the US.
Aneurysms have been classified into 2 categories, true aneurysms and false aneurysms. A true aneurysm includes all 3 layers that make up the blood vessel wall. A false aneurysm doesn’t involve the layers of the wall ballooning. In a false aneurysm the blood leaks out of the vessel and pools next to the vessel. False aneurysms are usually caused by trauma.
An aneurysm develops when an area in the wall of a blood vessel becomes weakened. as the blood is pushed through the blood vessel the pressure against the weakened area forces it to gradually balloon out. The reason aneurysms are more common in arteries is because the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries is higher than in the veins. Aneurysms also most frequently occur at or near where the blood vessel branches off, referred to as “Y” junctions because those areas tend to be naturally weaker. Scientists believe there are many factors that occur leading to the development of a weakened area in the blood vessels including atherosclerosis and congenital abnormalities.
Though aneurysms can occur anywhere in the body the most common area is the aorta, which is the major artery that leaves the heart with oxygenated blood to distribute through out our body. Most aneurysms in the aorta occur in the abdominal area is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Other common areas are the brain, and though they can occur anywhere in the brain many are located in the “circle of willis”. Aneurysms also frequently develop in the mesenteric artery in the intestines and the popliteal artery that runs down the back of the leg behind the knee, or in the splenic artery that serves the spleen.
Early diagnosis and treatment can make the difference in the ability to prevent serious complications including death. Unfortunaely many aneurysms develop and grow very large before any symptoms show. Any symptoms that you may experience would depend on the location and size of the aneurysm. For example, a small aneurysm that doesn’t grow will not bring any notice but a larger one especially if located in the brain may press on surrounding nerve tissue causing symptoms like headaches, numbness in your face or possible problems with your eyes.
Treatment for an aneurysm depends on whether or not the aneurysm has ruptured or not. If the aneurysm has not ruptured treatment will usually depend on size and location. If the aneurysm is small in the majority of cases it is better to take the “watch and see” approach, because surgery can be more dangerous. There are 2 types of surgery currently available to treat aneurysms. One involves cutting out the area of the vessel damaged and replacing it with a graft, this procedure is major surgery requiring months for recovery. The other is called endovascular surgery, this procedure is much less invasive as the graft is attached to the end of a “catheter” and then threaded through an artery to the site of the aneurysm where it is released and secured in place. The recovery for this procedure is much faster with less complications. Should the aneurysm rupture the treatment is aimed at stopping the bleeding. Endovascular coiling is fast becoming the treatment of choice, it’s minimally invasive, there are fewer complications and recovery is much faster.
As always prevention is better than treatment. You may not be able to prevent all aneurysms but a majority are caused by atherosclerosis so taking step to prevent or slow the development of atherosclerosis will help also to prevent aneurysms.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.