Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta that may be at risk of rupturing. A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding and can be fatal.

Types of Aortic Aneurysms

Aortic aneurysms can occur in two locations in the human body. It can occur in the chest, which is called a thoracic aortic aneurysm, or in the abdomen, which is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Thoracic aortic aneurysm: Thoracic aortic aneurysms are usually caused by high blood pressure or sudden injury. Other causes of thoracic aneurysms include plaque build-up in the arteries, high cholesterol, and infection.

Symptoms of thoracic aortic aneurysm can include:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the chest or upper back
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing and hoarseness

Abdominal aortic aneurysm: Abdominal aortic aneurysms can happen in the portion of the aorta passing through the abdomen. They are more common in men and among people aged 65 and above.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually caused by hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, infection, and smoking. Symptoms are often absent in abdominal aortic aneurysms. However, patients can sometimes have deep pain in the back or side of the abdomen and a throbbing sensation near the navel.

Treatment for Aortic Aneurysms

There are two main types of surgery for aortic aneurysms:

  • Open abdominal or open chest repair.
  • Endovascular repair

Open abdominal or open chest repair: This is the most common type of surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm in which the surgeon replaces the weakened section of the aorta with a tube, or graft. The graft will allow blood to flow through the aorta without making it swell.

The entire procedure can take between 2 and 6 hours. Patients may have to stay in the hospital for up to a week to recover and will be able to get back to normal activities in about a month.

Endovascular Repair: This is a minimally invasive option that is done without a large incision. The surgeon inserts a flexible wire frame sewn onto a special fabric tube, called a stent graft, into the aorta using a very thin tube, or catheter. The stent graft helps support the weakened artery wall.

After surgery, patients may have to stay in the hospital for 24 to 48 hours. Complete recovery usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks.