Aneurysms – a ballooning or bulging in an artery – may present with no symptoms. Depending on their size and location in the body, they can warrant a range of treatments.
Whether aneurysms are diagnosed after onset of symptoms, or identified via imaging or testing, all are serious. If left untreated, they can expand, rupture – and lead to death.
That's why you want to trust your care to vascular specialists. At University of Colorado Hospital, our vascular surgeons use the latest, proven surgical techniques to repair aneurysms.
In fact, our interdisciplinary vascular team is recognized statewide for its successes in treating the most critical aneurysm patients.
Types of Aneurysms
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms - also referred to as "AAA," these occur in the abdominal portion of the aorta. They often cause no symptoms, even when they have grown large.
- Thoracic aortic aneurysms - occur in the chest area of the aorta. Like their AAA cousin, thoracic aortic aneuryms ("TAA") often do not cause symptoms.
Peripheral aneurysms - typically these aneurysms occur in arteries in the legs and neck. Although peripheral aneurysms don't rupture or dissect as often as aortic aneurysms, they can form blood clots, which can impede blood flow.
Cerebral (brain) aneurysms - aneurysms that occur in the small arteries that supply blood to the brain can also burst, which may lead to a stroke.
Illustration: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Anesthesiologist - a doctor trained to administer medication to patients during surgery or other procedures.
Interventional radiologist - a doctor who specializes in minimally invasive, targeted treatments performed using imaging for guidance.
Neurologist - a doctor who specializes in study and treatment of the nervous system.
Neurosurgeon - a doctor who performs surgical procedures on the nervous system.
Vascular surgeon - a doctor who specializes in the surgical repair of blood vessels.
Other Aneurysms Staff
Case manager – a provider who manages and coordinates the care of patients between different departments.
Nurse practitioner - a registered nurse who has completed advanced education and training in the diagnosis and management of common medical conditions, including chronic illnesses.
Registered nurses - nurses licensed in the state of Colorado who conducts medical evaluations, takes patient histories and provides ongoing care for patients.
Radiology technician - a technician who creates radiographic images of the body that help diagnose and treat illnesses.
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to determine if you need additional tests to detect an aneurysm. Tests include:
Ultrasound. The ultrasound test uses a wand that emits painless, high-frequency sound waves that produce pictures of the blood flow in the artery. Your doctor uses these pictures to determine if there is a restriction or abnormality in the vessel.
CT Scan. CT scans take C-ray pictures that appear as slices of the artery and of the brain. The pictures allow your doctor to identify areas of poor blood flow or abnormality. The CT scan is painless, but you will be required to lie still on a table for a period of time.
CT Angiography. A CT angiography (CTA) is a CT scan that includes X-ray dye that your doctor injects to make the blood vessels stand out for better viewing.
Clip Ligation. Your surgeon may use a clip to pinch off the neck of the aneurysm. The clip ensures that blood does not flow from the artery into the aneurysm and weaken the artery wall.
Coils. This minimally invasive surgical procedure uses small platinum coils to block an aneurysm. Your surgeon places the coils by threading a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through a small incision in the groin. The catheter is guided into the blood vessel with the aneurysm, and the coil is released. Usually several coils are required to completely fill the aneurysm and block the flow of blood to it.
Stents. Your doctor may be able to treat your aneurysm with a minimally invasive procedure, using a wire mesh tube called a stent. You will be anesthetized locally, after which a catheter will be threaded through a small opening in your groin. When the catheter reaches the artery, your doctor will insert the stent into the artery. The stent lines and reinforces the interior of the artery, allowing blood to pass through without placing stress on the aneurysm.
Surgical Aneurysm Repair. You may need surgery to repair life-threatening aneurysms, like those occuring in the aorta. Your surgeon will make incisions at the site of the aneurysm, clamp the artery and remove blood clots and plaque from the aneurysm. Very often your surgeon will then sew a graft to the artery above and below the aneurysm, allowing the blood to bypass the aneurysm.
Illustration: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved two devices to treat patients with blockages in the neck (carotid) arteries with catheter-based interventional stents, effectively eliminating the need for surgery. The Cardiac & Vascular Center at University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) uses these stents on aneurysms and carotid artery diseases.
Living with aneurysms
While many aneurysms require surgical treatment, you can do your part to prevent new aneurysms by:
- Managing your diet (for example, by controlling cholesterol intake)
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling your blood pressure
Getting a Second Opinion about Aneurysms
The doctors and staff of University of Colorado Hospital are happy to provide second opinions for patients who have symptoms of or a diagnosis of aneurysm. For inquires, call (720) 848-5300.