An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel, much like a bulge on an over-inflated inner tube. Aneurysms are dangerous because they may burst, spilling blood outside of the aorta and leaving a person at risk for hemorrhaging within the abdominal or chest cavity.

The aorta, the main artery leading away from the heart, can sometimes develop an aneurysm. Aortic aneurysms usually occur in the abdomen below the kidneys (abdominal aneurysm), but may occur in the chest cavity. This can happen if the wall of the aorta becomes weakened by build ups of fatty deposits called plaque. This is called atherosclerosis. Aneurysms may also be due to an inherited disease such as Marfan's Syndrome.

How is an Aneurysm Detected?

Aneurysms can be detected by X-ray or by imaging techniques such as echocardiography, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computed tomography) scan. A small aneurysm may not cause symptoms. However, your doctor will want to check it regularly to see if it's enlarging. Pain, sometimes severe pain, in the area of an aneurysm is a common symptom. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the more likely it is to burst.

How is an Aneurysm Treated?

Aneurysms are treated surgically. A patch or artificial piece of blood vessel is sewn where the aneurysm was to reinforce the aorta so that it does not burst again. Abdominal aneurysms can be treated surgically, endovascularly with a stent or be managed medically.