What is an Aneurysm?

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An aneurysm occurs when part of an artery wall weakens, allowing it to balloon out or widen abnormally.

The causes of aneurysms are sometimes unknown. Some may be congenital, meaning a person is born with them. Aortic disease or an injury may also cause an aneurysm.

A family history of aneurysm may increase your risk for developing an aneurysm. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Aneurysms can occur anywhere, but the most common are:

  • Aortic aneurysm occurs in the major artery from the heart
  • Cerebral aneurysm occurs in the brain
  • Popliteal artery aneurysm occurs in the leg behind the knee
  • Mesenteric artery aneurysm occurs in the intestine
  • Splenic artery aneurysm occurs in an artery in the spleen

Learn more about the different types of aneurysms.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Aneurysms can develop slowly over many years and often have no symptoms. An aneurysm occurring near the surface of the skin may be painful and include swelling with a visible throbbing mass.

If an aneurysm expands quickly or ruptures, symptoms may develop suddenly and include:

  • Pain
  • Clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shock
  • Low blood pressure

Your doctor can use an angiogram, CT scan or ultrasound test to diagnose an aneurysm.

Treatment and prevention

A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number and seek immediate medical attention.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an unruptured aneurysm, work closely with your doctor to monitor any changes to the aneurysm. Your condition may require regular checkups depending on the aneurysm’s size and location.

Some aneurysms may require surgery to reinforce the artery wall with a stent. In cases where the aneurysm has ballooned out the side of the blood vessel, a coiling procedure may be done to close off the area.

Lower your risk

To lower your risks for aneurysm, take these steps to promote healthy blood vessels: