What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm is a permanent and localized dilatation in an artery; the affected artery loses the parallelism of its walls and dilates. We consider it to be an aneurysm when the diameter of the artery is 50% greater than normal. If it does not reach that figure, we speak of arterial ectasia.
Are there different types of aneurysms?
Most aneurysms are caused by arteriosclerosis, which is a degenerative disease of the arteries. But an aneurysm can also appear due to inflammatory causes or infection. Occasionally, trauma can also cause arterial dilatation.
Much rarer are the aneurysms that occur in certain connective tissue diseases such as Marfan’s disease or Ehler-Danlos disease.
What are the symptoms of an aneurysm and when should a specialist be consulted?
Many aneurysms are asymptomatic and are only discovered on radiological examination for other reasons. This frequently occurs with abdominal aortic aneurysms diagnosed with ultrasound or CT that are done for urological or gynecological reasons, for example.
On other occasions the aneurysm produces symptoms, which are different depending on their location: those located in arteries of the lower extremities tend to cause acute thrombosis. On the other hand, aortic aneurysms, especially abdominal aneurysms, can rupture and cause severe internal bleeding that requires emergency surgery.
The mere diagnosis of an aneurysm, even if asymptomatic, is reason enough to go to the vascular surgeon without delay.
Are there people who are more likely to suffer from an aneurysm?
Apart from the aforementioned patients with connective tissue disease, any patient with arteriosclerosis can potentially develop an aneurysm. There seems to be a certain familial predisposition in certain patients, although most of those diagnosed with aneurysm have no family history.
Can it be prevented?
The best prevention is that of arteriosclerosis. We should lead a healthy life, a Mediterranean diet, moderate exercise and avoid or control cardio-vascular risk factors: hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and, above all, it is essential not to smoke.