Frequently Asked Aortic Questions

If your doctor tells you that you have an aneurysm, you probably have questions. On this page, the OHSU aortic program experts answer some common questions that patients have.

Explore FAQs on other heart conditions and topics

Image credit: National Institutes of Health

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the aorta. Over time, this bulge becomes a weak spot that could tear or burst.

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It carries blood from your heart to almost every other part of the body.  So damage to the aorta can be very serious.

Doctors do not know the exact cause of aortic aneurysms. But they do know they are more common in people who:

  • Smoke
  • Are older than 65
  • Have hardened or blocked arteries, or both – Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. The aorta is the largest artery, but you also have others.
  • Have family members who had aneurysms
  • Also, aortic aneurysms are more common in men than women.

Your choices

  • Medical monitoring—This is done if your aneurysm is not large enough to be dangerous right now. A doctor who specializes in aortic disease checks your aneurysm regularly. You might also need medication and regular CT scans (CAT scans) or ultrasound. You can have CT and ultrasound at OHSU or a hospital near your home. You might also need medication.
  • Surgery—If your aneurysm is large enough that it is likely to leak, you need treatment to repair it. Your Aortic Program doctor will recommend surgery and talk with you about the best type to have.

Learn more about aortic aneurysm treatment, including types of surgery

Image credit: National Institutes of Health

When the wall of your aorta splits, doctors call this an “aortic dissection.” It happens when blood gets between the layers of the aorta’s wall. The pressure splits the aorta into two pathways. This could make the aorta burst. Or blood could get into the areas around your heart or lungs. If either of these things happens, it could cause serious problems or death.

You need treatment from an aortic disease specialist if you have an aortic dissection. Doctors in the Aortic Program at OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute are experts in finding and treating aortic dissections.