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Aneurysm Types Symptoms Causes Treatment

Goals of Treatment

Some aneurysms, mainly small ones that are not causing pain, can be treated with "watchful waiting." Others need to be treated to prevent growth and complications. The goals of treatment are to prevent the aneurysm from growing, prevent or reverse damage to other body structures, prevent or treat a rupture, and to allow you to continue to participate in normal daily activities.

Treatment Options

Medicine and surgery are the two types of treatment for an aneurysm. Medicines may be prescribed before surgery or instead of surgery. Medicines are used to reduce pressure, relax blood vessels, and reduce the risk of rupture. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are the medicines most commonly used.

Surgery may be recommended if an aneurysm is large and likely to rupture.

Treatment by Type of Aneurysm

Aortic Aneurysm

Experts recommend that men who have ever smoked (at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime) and are between the ages of 65 and 75 should have an ultrasound screening to check for abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Treatment recommendations for aortic aneurysms are based on the size of the aneurysm. Small aneurysms found early can be treated with "watchful waiting."

  • If the diameter of the aorta is small—less than 3 centimeters (cm)—and there are no symptoms, "watchful waiting" and a follow-up screening in 5 to 10 years may be all that is needed, as determined by the doctor.
  • If the aorta is between 3 and 4 cm in diameter, the patient should return to the doctor every year for an ultrasound to see if the aneurysm has grown.
  • If the aorta is between 4 and 4.5 cm, testing should be repeated every 6 months.
  • If the aorta is larger than 5 cm (2 inches around or about the size of a lemon) or growing more than 1 cm per year, surgery should be considered as soon as possible.

Two main types of surgery to repair aortic aneurysms are open abdominal or open chest repair and endovascular repair.

The traditional and most common type of surgery for aortic aneurysms is open abdominal or open chest repair. It involves a major incision in the abdomen or chest. General anesthesia is needed with this procedure.

The aneurysm is removed and the section of aorta is replaced with an artificial graft made of material such as Dacron?or Teflon? The surgery takes 3 to 6 hours, and the patient remains in the hospital for 5 to 8 days. It often takes a month to recover from open abdominal or open chest surgery and return to full activity. Open abdominal and chest surgeries have been performed for 50 years. More than 90 percent of patients make a full recovery.

In endovascular repair, the aneurysm is not removed, but a graft is inserted into the aorta to strengthen it. This type of surgery is performed through catheters (tubes) inserted into the arteries; it does not require surgically opening the chest or abdomen.

To perform endovascular repair, the doctor first inserts a catheter into an artery in the groin (upper thigh) and threads it up to the area of the aneurysm. Then, watching on x ray, the surgeon threads the graft (also called a stent graft) into the aorta to the aneurysm. The graft is then expanded inside the aorta and fastened in place to form a stable channel for blood flow. The graft reinforces the weakened section of the aorta to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.

endovascular stent graft

The illustration shows the placement of an endovascular stent graft in an aortic aneurysm. In figure A, a catheter is inserted into an artery in the groin (upper thigh). It is then threaded up to the abdominal aorta, and the stent graft is released from the catheter. In figure B, the stent graft allows blood to flow through the aneurysm.

Endovascular repair surgery reduces recovery time to a few days and greatly reduces time in the hospital. The procedure has been used since 1999. Not all aortic aneurysms can be repaired with this procedure. The exact location or size of the aneurysm may prevent the stent graft from being safely or reliably positioned inside the aneurysm.

Cerebral Aneurysm

Treatment for cerebral (brain) aneurysms depends on the size and location of the aneurysm, whether it is infected, and whether it has ruptured. A small cerebral aneurysm that hasn’t burst may not need treatment. A large cerebral aneurysm may press against brain tissue, causing a severe headache or impaired vision, and is likely to burst. If the aneurysm ruptures, there will be bleeding into the brain which will cause a stroke. If a cerebral aneurysm becomes infected, it requires immediate medical treatment. Treatment of many cerebral aneurysms, especially large or growing ones, involves surgery, which can be risky depending on the location of the aneurysm.

Peripheral Aneurysm

Most peripheral aneurysms have no symptoms, especially if they are small. They seldom rupture.

Treatment of peripheral aneurysms depends on the presence of symptoms, the location of the aneurysm, and whether the blood flow through the artery is blocked. Blood clots can form in a peripheral aneurysm, break loose, and block the artery.

An aneurysm in the back of the knee that is larger than 1 inch in diameter usually requires surgery. An aneurysm in the thigh also is usually repaired with surgery.