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Ascending Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

Ascending Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm Definition

il_taa_ascending_aneurysm.gifAn ascending thoracic aortic aneurysm is bulging and weakness in the wall of the ascending thoracic aorta, which extends up from the top of the heart´s left ventricle. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, located in the chest, which delivers blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An ascending thoracic aortic aneurysm can burst, which can cause life-threatening uncontrolled bleeding.


Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fatty substances, plaque and other elements) plays a key role in the development of an ascending thoracic aortic aneurysm.


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cystic medial degeneration (tissue breakdown in the aortic wall)
  • Genetic disorders (such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner´s syndrome and polycystic kidney disease) that affect connective tissue such as the bones, cartilage, heart and blood vessels
  • Family history of thoracic aortic aneurysms


  • Severe or dull pain in the abdomen, chest, lower back or groin
  • Sharp, sudden pain in the back or abdomen (may signal a rupturing aneurysm)


  • Chest X-ray: X-ray pictures are taken of the chest to determine if there are any abnormalities that suggest an aortic aneurysm.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan: X-ray slices of the aorta are taken to determine if there are any aneurysms.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Radio waves and magnetic fields are used to show areas where an aneurysm may be present.
  • Angiography: Dye is injected into the arteries through a catheter, then an X-ray is taken to show how blood flows through the arteries and whether any aneurysms are present. UVA´s angiography/interventional radiology suites are equipped with technology that allows for 3-D images of aneurysms to help determine the best plan of treatment.
  • Echocardiogram or transesophageal cardiogram: An exam that evaluates the structure and function of the heart, arteries and other structures in the chest through sound waves. A transesophageal cardiogram is performed by inserting an ultrasound probe into the esophagus.


  • Close monitoring: You may undergo regular screenings to check the size and growth of the aneurysm to determine if treatment is necessary.
  • Lifestyle changes: Steps such as quitting smoking, controlling diabetes and eating a low-fat diet to reduce cholesterol levels may help keep the aneurysm from growing.
  • Medication: You may receive medicine to reduce high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
  • Surgery: Surgeons may repair the aneurysm with a stent-graft, inserted into the aorta through an artery in the leg. In some cases, open surgery (requiring a larger incision in the chest) may be necessary to repair the aneurysm by placing an artificial blood vessel into the aorta to replace the aneurysm.
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