Potentially deadly thoracic aortic aneurysms easy to miss, reports the Harvard Heart Letter

The body's main pipeline for blood, called the aorta, is a sturdy, muscular blood vessel. But if a section of its outer wall weakens, the aorta can bulge out at that spot, forming an aneurysm. If an aortic aneurysm bursts, the massive internal bleeding that follows is often deadly. Bulges in the thoracic aorta—the upper part near the heart—are often neglected, overlooked, and misdiagnosed, reports the August 2010 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

Thoracic aortic disease develops slowly and silently, usually without any symptoms. And it often flies under doctors' radar, in part because no single medical specialty lays claim to the aorta, leaving it in medical limbo.

Most thoracic aortic aneurysms are found by chance on CT scans or echocardiograms done for another reason. This hit-or-miss approach misses most people who have a thoracic aneurysm. That's a shame, because finding them early can prevent most deaths.

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