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Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Heart & Vascular Center offers one of the largest vascular surgery programs in the nation, performing more than 200 aneurysm procedures each year. With world-class experts, pioneering research and a depth of experience, our surgeons continue to offer hope and leadership in the field of aneurysm diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding Aneurysms

An aortic aneurysm is a blood vessel disease which usually occurs in older adults. The disease weakens the main blood vessel in the chest (thoracic cavity) or belly (abdomen). Although it cannot be seen from the outside, an ultrasound, x-ray, CT or MR scan will reveal an aneurysm, which is a weak area of the blood vessel that appears as a bulge. Most of the time, an aneurysm occurs only in the abdominal aorta. These are called abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA). Less often, the aneurysm is located in the chest. This is called a thoracic aneurysm (TAA). Aneurysms can occur in both the chest and abdomen at the same time.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

After filling up with oxygen in the lungs, blood is pumped from the heart and into a very large blood vessel known as the aorta. The aorta is shaped like a candy cane, passing upward from the heart, then curving back downward through the chest and into the abdomen. This very important blood vessel sends fresh blood to every part of the body through blood vessels called arteries. These arteries supply the head, arms, spinal cord, intestines, liver, kidneys and legs.

The different parts of the aorta include the ascending aorta (the section that leaves the heart and passes upwards), the aortic arch (where the aorta turns downwards), the thoracic aorta (where it passes the lungs in the chest), and the abdominal aorta (the portion where the aorta passes down through the abdomen).

Most of the time an aneurysm does not cause any pain or discomfort. Blood is pumped through these blood vessels under pressure, and as the wall becomes weaker, the aneurysm becomes larger. If the wall becomes weak enough, the blood vessel can tear or rupture. If this happens, a lot of blood can be lost very quickly and the likelihood of survival is low. For this reason, it is important that large aneurysms are treated promptly when they are found. Of the 200,000 people diagnosed each year with AAA, almost 15,000 are in danger of rupture and death if they are not treated by a vascular surgeon.

Vascular Surgeons and Aneurysm Care

A vascular surgeon is a board-certified specialist who has been trained for six or more years in the treatment of AAA and many other diseases of blood vessels. Because of this detailed training, aneurysm treatment by a vascular surgeon is known to have better results than treatments provided by any other specialist.

The vascular surgeons at the Barnes-Jewish & Washington University Heart & Vascular Center are world-recognized experts in treating aneurysms using the most advanced treatments available. We also are among the premier scientists working to understand the causes of aneurysm disease and develop new treatments.

As a group, we have published nearly 100 papers on aortic aneurysm disease over the past nine years. We have received millions of dollars in research funding from the National Institute of Health and other agencies to understand the disease and to look for a cure. We have pioneered and championed new treatment techniques, such as endovascular aneurysm repair, which are more comfortable and require shorter hospital stays. We continue to participate or lead clinical trials in the latest treatments to allow our patients the greatest choice of treatments.

When patients have long portions of the aorta affected, we work closely with the cardiothoracic surgeons of the Heart & Vascular Center in a multidisciplinary team approach. Each year we treat more than 200 patients with aneurysm disease, including many patients who need the most complex care, and our results are among the best of any medical center in the world.

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart or vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.