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Aortic Root Aneurysm

An aortic root aneurysm is a type of aneurysm that occurs in the aorta — the body's largest blood vessel. They often have no symptoms and doctors find them during x-rays or CT scans.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer complete cardiovascular care. We use a team approach to tailor treatment plans for complex conditions, including aortic root aneurysms.

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What Is an Aortic Root Aneurysm?

An aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel stretches or bulges in one place. An aortic root aneurysm occurs in the beginning, or root, of the aorta.

The aorta is the body's largest blood vessel. It transports blood to the body from the heart.

Doctors also call an aortic root aneurysm a dilated aortic root.

Aortic root aneurysm risk factors and causes

Certain health problems increase the risk for aortic root aneurysms, including genetic or connective tissue disorders such as:

Autoimmune or inflammatory diseases that affect the arteries also raise risk.

These include:

Other health and lifestyle factors that increase aortic root aneurysm risk are:

Aortic root aneurysms can also result from birth defects of the heart or blunt trauma (an extreme blow) to the chest.

Aortic root aneurysm complications

The aortic root has a valve that allows blood to pass from the heart to the aorta.

When the heart pumps blood out, the valve opens. The valve then closes to prevent blood from flowing back in from the aorta.

When an aneurysm stretches the aorta, the valve can't fully close. Because the valve stays open, the blood pumped into the aorta can flow back into the heart.

This causes problems such as:

  • The coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, don't get enough blood from the aorta.
  • The rest of the body's organs don't get enough blood.
  • The aneurysm can dissect, which means the layers of the blood vessel can start to tear.
  • The aneurysm can rupture, which means it can burst open and leak blood quickly into the body.
  • Blood clots can form near the aneurysm and travel to other parts of the body, including the brain, lungs, and heart.

Aortic root aneurysms prevention

Though some people are at higher risk for this disease, it doesn't mean they'll form an aortic root aneurysm.

If you're at higher risk for an aortic root aneurysm, ways to help prevent it include:

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Eating heart-healthy foods.
  • Quitting smoking.

If you received an aortic root aneurysm diagnosis, you should:

  • Have a heart doctor routinely check your condition.
  • Track your blood pressure and share with your heart doctor. Strict blood pressure control is vital for treating aortic root aneurysms.
  • Ask your doctor if you can exercise, and how much. A dilated aortic root doesn't rule out exercise, but your doctor can advise you on what types are best for you.

Why Choose UPMC for Aortic Root Aneurysm Care?

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute is one of the world's premier centers for complete heart and blood vessel care.

Our experts:

  • Use a team approach with every person we treat.
  • Care for those facing the most complex heart and vascular conditions.
  • Advance the science and medicine in heart and vessel care through research.

Aortic Root Aneurysm Symptoms and Diagnosis

Aortic root aneurysm symptoms

Aortic root aneurysms often have no symptoms.

Some possible aneurysm symptoms are:

  • Dull chest pain.
  • Chest pain during exercise.
  • Shortness of breath.

If the aneurysm dissects or ruptures, symptoms include:

  • Sharp chest pain, sometimes also felt in the back.
  • Extreme shortness of breath.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Fainting/loss of consciousness.

An aneurysm dissection or rupture is a medical emergency. Seek treatment right away.

Diagnosing aortic root aneurysms

Doctors tend to find this type of aneurysm by chance when taking an x-ray or CT scan for another health reason.

Your heart doctor might screen you for an aortic root aneurysm if you have certain diseases that increase your risk.

Tests to diagnose aortic root aneurysms include an x-ray or ultrasound of the heart.

If the results show a possible aneurysm, your doctor might order more tests, such as an MRI or CT angiogram. These tests let your doctor see the size of the aneurysm and plan treatment.

Aortic Root Aneurysm Treatments

Need for treatment depends on the size of your aneurysm and any other health issues you may have.

The aortic root dilation, or bulge, may grow larger. It will not shrink on its own.

If your aneurysm is 50 percent larger than the rest of the artery, you may need surgery. Doctors mainly suggest surgery when an aortic root dilation reaches 5 centimeters.

If the aneurysm is small and not causing any problems, your doctor may suggest waiting to see if the aneurysm is growing.

Doctors can treat this type of aneurysm either by:

  • Rebuilding the aortic root and any damaged aortic valves.
  • Using grafts in the vessel.

An aortic root replacement procedure replaces a section of the aorta with an artificial tube, or graft. The aortic valve is also removed and replaced with a mechanical or biological valve.

An aortic root replacement procedure replaces a section of the aorta with an artificial tube, or graft. The aortic valve is also removed and replaced with a mechanical or biological valve. 

Aortic root aneurysm treatment risks

If you or a family member received an aortic root aneurysm diagnosis, it's vital to know the risks of waiting versus treatment.

A connective tissue disorder or other health condition may increase your risk of rupture, even for a small aneurysm.

The risks of aortic root aneurysm surgery are:

A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency that may be fatal if not treated right away.