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Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

What is a thoracic aortic aneurysm?

A thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) is a bulge in your aorta that occurs when the aorta's walls are weakened. The aorta is a large blood vessel that extends from your heart down the center of your chest and into your abdomen.

What causes a TAA?

  • Atherosclerosis: This is hardening of the arteries. Hardening occurs when fatty deposits, called plaque, build up along the walls of your arteries.

  • Abnormal development: A part of your heart and aorta may not have developed normally.

  • Inflammation: You may have inflammation in the walls of your aorta from an inflammatory disease or certain infections, such as syphilis.

  • Loss of elasticity: As you age, blood vessels in the body may lose some of their elasticity. It may be worsened by long-term increased blood pressure. Certain disorders also can make the walls of your arteries lose elasticity.

  • Trauma: Injury, particularly on the chest area, may lead to a partial or complete cut in the aorta.

What increases my risk of a TAA?

  • Cigarette smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • A close family member has had a TAA

  • Being male and older than 65 years of age

  • Diabetes

  • Being overweight

What are the signs and symptoms of a TAA?

You may have no signs or symptoms. The following are common when signs and symptoms do occur:

  • Chest, neck, back, or abdominal pain

  • Cough or blood in sputum

  • Hoarseness

  • Trouble breathing, which may be affected by position

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Wheezing

How is a TAA diagnosed?

You may need more than one of the following tests. You may be given contrast dye before some tests to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • X-rays: These show your lungs, heart, aorta, and other parts around them. An x-ray of the aorta with dye is called an aortogram or aortography.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your chest and blood vessels. The pictures may show a TAA.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your chest and blood vessels. An MRI may show a TAA. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • Transesophageal echocardiogram:

    • A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is a type of ultrasound that shows pictures of the size and shape of your heart. It also looks at how your heart moves when it is beating. These pictures are seen on a TV-like screen. You may need a TEE if your heart does not show up very well in a regular echocardiogram. You may also need a TEE to check for certain problems such as blood clots or infection inside the heart.

    • You will be given medicine to relax you during a TEE. Caregivers put a tube in your mouth that is moved down into your esophagus (food pipe). The tube has a small ultrasound sensor on the end. Since your esophagus is right next to your heart, your caregiver can see your heart clearly.

How is a TAA treated?

  • Medicines: You may be given blood pressure or cholesterol medicine to help stop your TAA from growing.

  • Repair: Caregivers may cut out the aneurysm and replace the cut area with an artificial tube. If the aortic valve (flap) also has a problem, it may also be replaced.

  • Stenting: A stent (tube) may be put in the portion of the aorta with aneurysm. The stent may strengthen your aorta and reduce pressure on the wall of your aorta.

What are the risks of a TAA?

Surgery may damage to your spinal cord, or cause you to bleed or get an infection. Too much blood loss can cause your organs to fail, such as your kidneys. You may need to have surgery again. If untreated, TAA may cause more serious problems. The aneurysm may get larger, burst, and be life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Check your blood pressure as directed: Keep a record of your blood pressure and bring it with you to follow-up visits. Ask your caregiver what your blood pressure should be and how to check it. High blood pressure can make your aneurysm worse.

  • Exercise: Ask your caregiver to help you create an exercise plan. This may help lower blood pressure.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking increases your risk for TAA and heart disease. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new symptoms since your last appointment.

  • Your symptoms prevent you from doing your daily activities.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have nausea and are vomiting.

  • You have sudden chest, neck, back, or abdominal pain.

  • Your skin becomes pale and sweaty, or you feel very weak.

  • You are dizzy, or you faint.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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