Recent Blog Articles

Staying Healthy

Bringing awareness to aneurysms in the chest

January 1, 2017

Most often, bulges in the aorta near the heart are found by accident. Should you be screened for this rare yet dangerous condition?

aneurysms chest aorta
 Image: Nerthuz /Thinkstock

The aorta, the body's largest blood vessel, arises from the heart's left pumping chamber, then curves up and over the heart in a gentle arc. In some people, a weak spot in the aorta's wall causes the vessel to bulge outward like a worn-out bicycle tire. Called a thoracic aneurysm, this stealthy condition develops slowly and silently, rarely causing symptoms. And while some thoracic aneurysms are relatively harmless, others cause catastrophic problems. An estimated one in 10,000 people has a thoracic aneurysm, although the exact prevalence is unknown.

"Most thoracic aneurysms are discovered on an imaging test done for some other reason," explains Dr. Eric Isselbacher, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Thoracic Aortic Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. For example, an aneurysm might be visible on an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) done during testing for an irregular heartbeat. Because the condition is so uncommon, testing everyone for a thoracic aneurysm doesn't make sense. But certain people face a higher risk than others (see "Who needs to be checked?").

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.