The aorta is the major blood vessel that arises from the heart and travels through the chest down to the lower body. Various diseases can affect the aorta, with high blood pressure, smoking, and a family history of aortic disease being the major risk factors. Patients with aortic disease are often asymptomatic, and the diagnosis is frequently made after testing for other health problems.
Aneurysms of the aorta occur when the aorta is enlarged to greater than one and a half times the normal diameter. Aneurysmal dilation can occur anywhere along the course of the aorta including the aortic root, the ascending aorta, the aortic arch, or the descending thoracic aorta. This enlargement results in weakening of the arterial wall which puts patients at a higher risk of dissection (tearing of the inner lining) or rupture. Because of this, aneurysms are best repaired electively before these life-threatening complications develop. Aortic repair or replacement can be performed using a traditional open approach or a minimally invasive endovascular approach. With endovascular surgery, catheters inserted into the groin vessels are used to guide a graft up through the arterial system into the diseased aorta. The graft is then deployed to exclude blood flow from the diseased area. Not all aortic diseases can be treated using endovascular surgery and your surgeon will discuss the options for your particular diagnosis.