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Seniors' Health Channel
Reported December 24, 2012

Gold Standard: Fixing Aortic Aneurysms-Research Summary

BACKGROUND:  More than a million people are living with aortic aneurysms and often times do not even know it.  An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta, the body’s main artery.  The aorta is responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body.  The section where the aneurysm is usually weak and overstretched will cause it to burst.  When the aorta bursts it results in severe bleeding that can lead to death.  Aneurysms can form in any section of the aorta, but are most common in the belly area and upper body. (Source: mayoclinic.com)

CAUSES:  The wall of the aorta is very adaptable.  It can stretch and shrink to adapt to blood flow.  Some medical problems can weaken the artery walls, like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or high blood pressure.  Health problems along with the normal wear and tear of  the aorta that occurs naturally with aging can result in a weak aortic wall, resulting in an aortic wall that bulges outward.  (Source: mayoclinic.com)

SYMPTOMS:  Most people with aortic aneurysms do not have symptoms.  Most of the time doctors find the aneurysm through other tests and exams for different health concerns.  However, doctors recommend patients to get screened if they are men who are between the ages of 65 to 75 and if they have at a close relative (father, brother, etc.) who has had an aneurysm.   Tests can include a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound.  The few people who experience symptoms complain about back pain, discomfort, belly pain, or chest pain that can come and go or stay constant.  The worst case scenario would be if the aneurysm ruptures or bursts, resulting in severe pain and bleeding often leading to death within minutes to hours.  Aortic aneurysms can cause other health problems as well.  It can cause blood clots to form, because blood flow slows in the bulging section of an aortic aneurysm.  For example, if a blood clot breaks off from an aortic aneurysm in the chest area, it could travel to the brain and cause a stroke. (Source:  mayoclinic.com)

TREATMENT:  Treatment of an aortic aneurysm depends on how fast it is growing and how big it is already.  A fast-growing or large aneurysm can be corrected by surgery.  The doctor will repair the weakened blood vessel with a stent or will replace it with a graft during surgery.  Smaller aneurysms usually do not rupture and can be treated with high blood pressure medicine that will reduce stress on the aortic wall along with routine ultrasound tests to check on the progress of the aneurysm.  Also if the aneurysm does not grow or rupture, the doctor will suggest the patient to eat healthier, stop smoking, exercise more, and prescribe medicines.  (Source:  mayoclinic.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  A stent graft is most commonly used to reinforce an aortic aneurysm.  It is designed to seal the artery above and below the aneurysm.  Stents have been around since the beginning of the 1990s.  Now a new type of stent is being introduced.  The FDA is developing customized stents right in the operating room.  They are sewing gold around the stent to allow doctors to see it on their computer, which will allow them to pinpoint exactly where the vessels are.  Gold is often used in medicine because it is radiopacity and flexible. (Source:  www.ajnr.org) 

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