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thoracic aortic aneurysms

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms Explained: Symptoms, Care, and What You Need to Know

The thoracic aortic aneurysm is a medical condition characterized by an abnormal enlargement or bulging of the aorta in the thoracic (chest) region. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and carries blood (oxygenated) from the heart to the rest of the body. If left untreated, the aneurysm can grow larger over time, potentially leading to complications such as aortic dissection or rupture, both of which can be life-threatening.

Many thoracic aortic aneurysms may not cause conspicuous symptoms but are often discovered incidentally during medical imaging for other reasons. Large or fast-growing aneurysms and those causing symptoms may require surgical intervention to prevent rupture or dissection.

Please continue reading to learn about thoracic aortic aneurysms, including identifying, managing, and avoiding them. 

Understanding Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

An aortic aneurysm is the most common type of aneurysm. It occurs anywhere in the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Aortic aneurysms can surely be life-threatening if they rupture. It originates from the heart’s left ventricle and carries oxygenated blood throughout the body. The thoracic aorta is the portion of the aorta that passes through the chest. 

An aneurysm is an enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the arterial wall; however, a ruptured aneurysm can be fatal. The aorta is the large artery that begins in the heart’s left ventricle and passes through the chest and abdominal cavities. The average diameter of the aorta is between 2 and 3 centimeters, but it can bulge beyond 5 cm with an aneurysm.

Thoracic aortic aneurysms can be classified based on their location and shape. Ascending thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs in the ascending aorta, the section of the aorta that originates from the heart. Descending thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs in the descending aorta, the area of the aorta that passes through the chest. It is more common in women than in men.

Genetic and environmental factors can influence the occurrence and development of a thoracic aortic aneurysm. While the exact cause of most TAAs remains unknown, risk factors may increase the likelihood of having and developing this condition.

The risk of developing TAAs increases and often occurs in older individuals. A family history of thoracic aortic aneurysms or other vascular disorders can significantly increase the risk of developing an aneurysm. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can put additional stress on the walls of the aorta, making them more prone to developing an aneurysm.

Symptoms of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

Thoracic aortic aneurysms can develop and grow slowly without causing noticeable symptoms, especially in the early stages. Pain in the chest or upper back may occur as the aneurysm expands, putting pressure on nearby tissues. The pain can be sharp, sudden, or persistent. Some individuals with TAAs may experience palpitations or irregular heartbeats due to the proximity of the aneurysm to the heart.

As a TAA grows, it can press on the airways or esophagus, leading to difficulty breathing or swallowing. Pressure from an enlarging TAA can affect the nerves that control the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness or changes in the voice. An aneurysm that compresses the airways may cause a chronic cough or wheezing.

One of the most severe complications of a TAA is rupture, which occurs when the weakened aortic wall tears or bursts, leading to severe internal bleeding. Aortic dissection is another critical complication that can happen when there is a tear in the inner layer of the aortic wall. Blood can flow into the incision, creating a separate channel within the wall, extending along the aorta.

In some cases, blood clots may form within the aneurysm. These clots can obstruct blood flow, break loose, and travel to other body parts, leading to complications like stroke or limb ischemia.

Early detection allows healthcare professionals to identify and monitor aneurysms before they reach a critical size or become at high risk of rupture or dissection. Timely intervention can prevent life-threatening emergencies.

Diagnosis and Prognosis

A thorough physical examination may reveal abnormal heart sounds or a pulsating mass in the chest. The healthcare provider will also take a detailed medical history, including any symptoms experienced, risk factors, and family history of aortic aneurysms or related conditions.

A CT scan with contrast is a widely used imaging technique to visualize the aorta and identify any aneurysms. It provides detailed images of the aortic anatomy, allowing accurate measurements of the aneurysm’s size, shape, and relationship to nearby structures. 

Another imaging test to look into aneurysms is MRI. It provides:

  • High-resolution images of the aorta and aneurysms.
  • Helping to assess the size and location.
  • Potential involvement of adjacent structures.

If a TAA is small and asymptomatic, it may be monitored regularly through imaging tests. These aneurysms can often remain stable or grow slowly without causing complications. Proper monitoring and managing risk factors, such as blood pressure control, can help reduce the risk of rupture or dissection.

Large or rapidly expanding thoracic aortic aneurysms pose a higher risk of rupture or dissection. Prompt intervention may be recommended through surgery or endovascular repair to prevent these life-threatening complications.

Treatment Options

Medical management may involve regular monitoring and lifestyle modifications for small and stable TAAs, especially those without symptoms. It includes managing risk factors such as hypertension and cholesterol levels, stopping smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.

A cardiologist may prescribe medications to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of rupture. Beta-blockers and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can slow down the growth of aneurysms and decrease the risk of complications.

If the thoracic aortic aneurysm requires surgery, the vascular surgeon or interventional cardiologist replaces the weakened segment of the aorta with a synthetic graft. Medical professionals recommend this procedure for larger, rapidly growing aneurysms or those at risk of rupture or dissection.

The initial recovery period can be challenging for individuals who undergo open surgical repair. It may involve hospitalization for several days to a week, and the recovery process can take several weeks to months. During this time, patients may experience pain, fatigue, and limitations on physical activities as the body heals.

Regardless of the type of treatment, regular check-ups and monitoring are essential to ensure the success of the intervention and to detect any possible complications early. Follow-up visits, imaging tests, and adherence to medical recommendations are crucial for ongoing management.

Preventive Measures and Patient Care

Smoking is a major risk factor for TAA, so quitting is one of the best ways to reduce your risk. Hypertension can damage the walls of the aorta, making them more likely to bulge or rupture. Keeping your blood pressure normal can help to reduce your risk of TAA. 

A meal rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and food that are low in saturated and trans fats can help manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels, promoting overall cardiovascular health. As approved by the healthcare provider, regular physical activity can improve heart health, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce stress.

Patients with TAAs should have regular follow-up visits with their healthcare provider, typically a cardiologist or vascular surgeon. Depending on the size and growth rate of the aneurysm, visits may range from every six months to annually or as the healthcare provider recommends.

Individuals with thoracic aortic aneurysms may have co-existing medical conditions, known as co-morbidities, which can influence their management and overall health. Common co-morbidities in TAA patients include hypertension, atherosclerosis, connective tissue disorders, and heart valve abnormalities.

Managing co-morbidities effectively through medication, lifestyle modifications, and regular monitoring is essential for optimizing cardiovascular health and ensuring the best possible outcomes for individuals with TAAs.

Statistics, Studies, and Real-World Examples

A recent study published in A Report From the American Heart Association found that males with hypertension from 60 to 74 years of age are associated with higher risks of thoracic aortic aneurysms. According to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons/American College of Cardiology transcatheter aortic valve treatment (TAVR) registry statistics, TAVR volumes continue to rise, with 13,723 TAVR procedures performed between 2011 and 2013 and 72,991 courses completed in 2019. Thoracic surgeons performed TAVR at 669 sites in 2019. In 2019, TAVR volumes outnumbered all other surgical aortic valve replacement types.

According to a published article in the National Library of Medicine, TAA has a survival rate of 56 % without treatment and 85% after surgery. Only 25% of aortic aneurysms occur in the chest, making it rare.


Thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) are severe but manageable conditions. Awareness of the early signs, risk factors, and the importance of proactive care can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for at-risk individuals. Regular medical check-ups, especially for those with a family history of aortic aneurysms or other risk factors, can lead to early detection and timely intervention, reducing the risk of complications.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, smoking cessation, and stress management, is essential for preventing the progression of TAAs and other cardiovascular conditions. Adhering to prescribed medications and following the advice of healthcare professionals are crucial steps in managing the situation effectively.


Acute Aortic Syndromes and Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms. May 2009. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2676130/

Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2022 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. January 2022. Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0000000000001052#d1e2991

M. Eagleton. Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. Society of Vascular Surgery. Retrieved from: https://vascular.org/patients-and-referring-physicians/conditions/thoracic-aortic-aneurysm

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/thoracic-aortic-aneurysm/symptoms-causes/syc-20350188#:~:text=A%20thoracic%20aortic%20aneurysm%20is,artery%20is%20called%20the%20aorta.

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. John Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/thoracic-aortic-aneurysm

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About the Author

Rich Devman

Rich Devman

In the year 2020, I encountered one of the most significant challenges of my life when I was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. This condition, considered one of the most severe and dangerous forms of cardiovascular disease, required immediate surgical intervention. The ascending aorta, which is the segment of the aorta that rises from the heart and delivers oxygen-rich blood to the body, had developed an abnormal bulge in its wall, known as an aneurysm. Left untreated, such an aneurysm could lead to life-threatening conditions such as aortic dissection or even aortic rupture. In response to this urgent health crisis, I underwent emergency surgery, a procedure aimed to repair the dilated section of my aorta, thereby preventing a potential disaster. This type of surgery often involves a procedure known as an open chest aneurysm repair, where the weakened part of the aorta is replaced with a synthetic tube, a demanding operation that calls for extensive expertise and precision from the surgical team. Surviving such a major health scare deeply impacted my life, leading me to channel my experience into something constructive and helpful for others going through the same situation. As a result, I took it upon myself to establish this website and a corresponding Facebook group. These platforms are designed to provide support, encouragement, and a sense of community for those grappling with the reality of an ascending aortic aneurysm. I often refer to those of us who have had our aneurysms discovered and treated before a catastrophic event as "the lucky ones." The unfortunate reality is that aortic aneurysms are often termed "silent killers" due to their propensity to remain asymptomatic until they rupture or dissect, at which point it's often too late for intervention. Thus, we, who were diagnosed and treated timely, represent the fortunate minority, having had our aneurysms detected before the worst could happen. Through this website and our Facebook group, I aim to raise awareness, provide critical information about the condition, share personal experiences, and, above all, offer a comforting hand to those who are facing this daunting journey. Together, we can turn our brushes with mortality into a beacon of hope for others. Also, I make websites look pretty and rank them on search engines, raise a super amazing kid, and I have a beautiful wife.