Harvard Heart Letter

Aortic aneurysm: a potential killer

Are you at increased risk for this often-symptomless disease?

The aorta is the body's largest artery—and its lifeline. The aorta carries freshly oxygenated blood from the heart down through the chest and abdomen, before dividing into the arteries that serve the legs. All organs and arteries in the body owe their survival to blood delivered through a healthy aorta.

Like other blood vessels in the body, the aorta can develop atherosclerosis. In this disease, harmful LDL cholesterol sticks to the inside wall of the vessel, forming plaques. These plaques infiltrate the artery wall, weakening it. The constant stress of blood flowing through the aorta may then cause the walls to bulge where they are weak. This bulge is called an aneurysm. If the aneurysm ruptures, the result can be catastrophic.

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