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Aneurysm Prevention Program

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 39 in the May 5, 2010 issue
Reprinted on page 24 in the September 8, 2010 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

Aneurysm comes from the Greek word for dilation. It most commonly refers to a dilation of a blood vessel due to a weakening of the arterial wall. Aneurysms look like a bulging tire tube and sometimes they can burst or leak. This can be troublesome if it occurs in a sensitive area of the brain, or involves the main blood supplier called the aortic artery.

Sometimes, aneurysms are due to conditions we are born with, but many aneurysms are linked to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Build up of plaque on the artery walls can cause them to get rigid and weak.

The most common sites for an aneurysm are in the main aorta and also in the small arteries at the base of the brain. The bigger the aneurysm, the weaker the wall and there is an increased risk of rupture. Rupture will result in bleeding or hemorrhage in the brain which will result in stroke-like symptoms. Rupturing an aneurysm on your main artery can be quite fatal.

Many older people have Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) often present as pulsing masses in patients with lean abdomens. For some reason, Caucasian men are most prone to aneurysm development but it is rarely a problem before age 55.

If abdominal aneurysms begin to leak, the symptoms may mimic a heart attack or back pain or simply an "unwell" feeling. Simple ultrasound examinations are used to identify these aneurysms. Abdominal aneurysms which reach over 5 cm in size can be surgically repaired, but the procedure can be risky, depending on other health problems. Once they rupture, surgery can rarely occur fast enough to save the patient, but is sometimes attempted.

Berry aneurysms are smaller and occur within the cerebral circulatory vessels of the brain. When these aneurysms swell, severe headaches, visual problems and uncontrolled eye movements may give some warning. When they rupture and bleed, we refer to this as a hemorrhagic stroke. They are diagnosed using CAT scan and MRI technology. Surgery can be performed and clips are used to stop the bleeding. There are some less invasive procedures that use special coil devices via catheters introduced through the neck region.

There are two other types of aneurysms. A mycotic aneurysm is the result of a fungal infection that tends to begin in the wall of a damaged artery. As it grows, it weakens the wall further causing aneurismal enlargement. Treatment involves destroying the fungal colony and then repairing the artery. Vascular surgeons are specially trained to perform these procedures. Atherosclerotic aneurysms are linked to the build up of fatty deposits on the walls of our arteries.

Risk factors for the development of aneurysms include: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, a poor immune system, sedentary life style, and genetics. Many aneurysms can be tracked clinically, and there is no pressing need for surgery. Start your prevention program right now with a brisk walk!

Related resources:

AAA STOP - Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: Simple Treatment or Prevention from Stanford University School of Medicine.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm from MedlinePlus. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs becomes abnormally large or balloons outward. Causes, Symptoms, Exams and Tests, Treatment, Outlook (Prognosis), Possible Complications, Prevention.

Aneurysm from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Illustrated.

Aneurysms and Aortic Dissection from Merck Manuals - Online Medical Library. Where Do Aortic Aneurysms Occur? (Illustrated). Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms and Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms. "Aneurysms may occur in arteries other than the aorta, such as the popliteal arteries (at the back of the knees), the femoral arteries (in the thighs), the coronary arteries (around the heart), and, rarely, the carotid arteries (in the neck)."

Aneurysm, Type of Aneurysms: Aortic Aneurysms, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms, Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms, Brain Aneurysms, Peripheral Aneurysms, (illustrated) from National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Aneurysm - Prevention from University of Maryland Medical Center.

Brain Aneurysm: Prevention. From Mayo Clinic.

Brain Aneurysms: Causes and Prevention from The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF).

Definition of Berry Aneurysm from MedicineNet.

Brain Aneurysm (Cerebral Aneurysm). Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, from MedicineNet.

Abdominal Aorta Aneurysm: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment from MedicineNet.

Cerebral Aneurysm Fact Sheet from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Abdominal Aorta Aneurysm: Statistics, Standard Repair, from East Carolina University, Department of Surgery. "... an abdominal aneurysm may rupture and cause sudden death. If detected early, however, surgery eliminates this silent danger 95 percent of the time."

Aortic Aneurysms: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment from Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute. "Aortic aneurysms can occur in the following three locations: Abdominal aortic aneurysms, Thoracic aneurysms, and Thoracic abdominal aneurysms.

Saccular and fusiform aneurysms are balloon-like swellings of the arterial wall that can occur in the portion of the aorta within the chest or just below the kidney in the abdomen ...

The risk is that an aneurysm will eventually rupture, causing extensive internal bleeding and a complete collapse of circulation. Sudden severe pain, shock and loss of consciousness usually occur within seconds, and death is imminent in more than 50 percent of cases, even with emergency surgery ... the goal is to detect and treat an aortic aneurysm before it ruptures. Aortic aneurysms generally affect people over 60 and are more common among men ...

Prevention measures include a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. It is also important to take steps to prevent, detect and treat high blood pressure."

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