An aneurysm is a weak spot in the wall of a blood vessel. Pressure from the blood flow can cause the aneurysm to bulge or balloon. Most aneurysms occur in the aorta, which is the body's main artery that carries blood from the heart. Aortic aneurysms that rupture cause internal bleeding that can be fatal.
At The University of Kansas Health System, you'll receive expert, comprehensive care for aortic aneurysms from our multidisciplinary team. Our Aneurysm Center provides advanced treatment for aneurysms affecting any part of the body outside of the brain. Neurologists and neurosurgeons on our staff treat brain aneurysms.
What is an aortic aneurysm?
Each year, about 15,000 people in the United States die from ruptured aortic aneurysms. They are the 10th leading cause of death for men over age 50.
However, aneurysms can occur in any blood vessel in the body:
- Abdomen (abdominal aorta)
- Back of the knees (popliteal arteries)
- Thighs (femoral arteries)
- Upper body (thoracic aorta)
Aortic aneurysm symptoms and risks
The signs and symptoms of an aneurysm depend on its type, location and whether it has ruptured or is interfering with the body's other organs or functions. Aneurysms can grow for years without symptoms. Such aneurysms are usually found during tests for other problems.
When present, aneurysm symptoms may include chronic pain, discomfort or a pulsating sensation in the affected area.
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of aortic aneurysm. People may be more likely to develop aneurysms if they have certain risk factors:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Being overweight or obese
- Diseases and conditions that can weaken the arterial wall, such as:
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Marfan syndrome
- Family history of aneurysm, heart disease or other arterial diseases
- High blood pressure
- Trauma, such as a blow to the chest in a car accident
- Use of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine
Aortic aneurysm diagnosis and screening
To detect aneurysms, our team uses the most comprehensive and high-tech diagnostic options available. Our state-of-the-art, 64-slice computerized tomography (CT) scanner provides detailed 3D images in a noninvasive, low-risk way.
If your family has a history of aneurysm or any other risk factors, we may recommend screening for your immediate family members, including children, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles.
Aortic aneurysm treatment
If your aneurysm is relatively small, your doctor may just want you to visit regularly to check for growth. Depending on the size of your aneurysm, you may need surgery right away. The University of Kansas Health System offers advanced options for surgical aneurysm treatment.
A cardiothoracic surgeon at the health system developed a new surgical technique to repair aortic arch aneurysms that greatly reduces the risk of brain damage. The procedure, called normothermic antegrade sequential complete arch resection, eliminates the need to lower the body's temperature and stop blood flow to the brain during surgery.
Our team also performs a graft technique to repair a thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA). This innovative catheter-based approach is a major advancement for those suffering from a TAA. It also lets physicians treat those with TAA who are not good candidates for surgery because of lung problems or other risk factors.
While traditional TAA surgery involves a large incision, the new procedure only requires a small thigh incision for threading the catheter. Physicians guide the graft through the artery into the chest, then place it at the precise location covering the aneurysm.
Other benefits of minimally invasive TAA surgery include:
- The entire procedure usually takes about an hour, compared to 4 to 6 hours for the traditional open heart aneurysm repair.
- You can usually go home the next day, compared to the typical hospital stay of 1 week to 10 days. You should not require the intensive care nursing that is standard with traditional TAA surgery.
- You can resume normal activities in 1 to 2 weeks, compared to a recovery of 4 to 6 weeks following traditional TAA surgery.
- Blood loss is cut by 80% compared to traditional TAA surgery, and there are fewer postoperative complications.
- The mortality rate of the TAA graft method is ⅓ the rate of traditional TAA surgery.
- The graft is made of Nitinol, an alloy that conforms to the shape of the artery. This is the only device of its type approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Our team is uniquely qualified to provide this procedure. The TAA graft method is performed by a heart surgeon who has extensive experience treating TAA open heart cases rather than by a vascular surgeon. In addition, the interventional radiologist takes part in the procedure so you won’t need to make a separate visit for staging.
Why choose us for aortic aneurysm treatment
- We were the first in the Kansas City metro region to repair abdominal and thoracic aneurysms with stent grafts. We also have more experience with stent grafts than any team in the area.
- Cardiovascular anesthesiologists on our team are trained and certified in transesophageal echocardiography (TEE). These specialists use TEE to help guide stent placement.
- Our team was the first in the region to complete graft-based TAA surgery, as well as the first to perform an abdominal aneurysm stent graft.