An aneurysm is a small blood filled bulge which develops in an enlarged part of the artery wall. This occurs as a result of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
An increased blood flow through the artery puts undue pressure on it which then weakens it over time. Each time blood flows through this artery it causes the weakened section to balloon outwards.
If this ruptures it can cause organ damage and life threatening internal bleeding.
Types of aneurysm
An aneurysm can develop in any part of the body but the two most common types are:
- Aortic aneurysm
- Cerebral aneurysm
An aortic aneurysm occurs in the largest artery of the body - the aorta. The aorta starts from the left side of the heart (the left ventricle) and runs down the length of the abdomen before branching off into two smaller arteries.
The aorta is responsible for circulating blood around the body.
If this splits as a result of an aneurysm then massive internal bleeding occurs. This can be fatal. A cerebral aneurysm occurs in the brain. This type of rupture causes blood to leak out into the brain which can result in brain damage. This leakage also reduces the amount of blood in that area which causes further damage to the brain.
Causes of an aneurysm
High blood pressure is the main cause of an aneurysm. But an aneurysm can also be caused by smoking, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or is inherited (family history).
Symptoms of an aneurysm
In some cases there will not be any symptoms unless the aneurysm is of a sufficiently large size to cause a problem or has ruptured.
Here are symptoms of an unruptured aortic or cerebral aneurysm.
Symptoms of an aortic aneurysm include:
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Chronic back pain
- A tingling or vibrating feeling around the belly button which is noticeable when touched.
Symptoms of a cerebral aneurysm include:
- Double vision
- Loss of vision
- Facial paralysis
- Pain on one side of the face
A ruptured aneurysm is far more serious and requires emergency treatment. Symptoms of a ruptured aortic aneurysm include:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
Surgery is performed in these cases which mean an aortic graft. The weakened section of the aorta is removed and replaced with an artificial section (made from plastic) which is grafted into place.
Equally serious is a ruptured cerebral aneurysm which presents with the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Stiff neck
- Double or blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Surgery is also required. This includes either clipping the site of the aneurysm or inserting a length of plastic tubing into the aneurysm to prevent any further blood flow into that area.
Treatment of an aneurysm
If the aneurysm has not ruptured then treatment will involve careful monitoring over a period of time. It will also include some lifestyle changes such as reducing high blood pressure and losing weight if necessary. Surgery may also be performed.
Preventing an aneurysm
It is difficult to prevent if the patient has a family history of aneurysms. But if your family has a history of these then there are a few things you can do to reduce other risk factors such as eating a low fat diet, stopping smoking, taking exercise and controlling your blood pressure. This is particularly important if you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in an aneurysm if not treated so make sure you have it checked on a regular basis.
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