Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Understanding the different types of aneurysms

Q. In a previous issue, you discussed abdominal aortic aneurysms. My uncle was just diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurysm. How is this type of aneurysm different?

A. An aortic aneurysm is a weakened area in the wall of the aorta that causes it to bulge or dilate. The aorta—which has a diameter the size of a garden hose—is the vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. The section that curves out of the heart, the thoracic aorta, is shaped like a candy cane. The part below, the abdominal aorta, passes straight down through the center of the body.

Most of the time, aortic aneurysms occur in the abdominal aorta. But about 25% develop in the thoracic area. Both types are more common in people who smoke or who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

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