What Causes Aortic Aneurysm?

  • Approximately 95 percent of aortic aneurysms are caused by atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) due to the buildup of fatty plaque in the arterial walls. Atherosclerosis damages the walls of the arteries, causing them to thicken and lose their normal inner lining. Damaged areas of the artery can can stretch from arterial blood flow, resulting in an aneurysm.
  • Infections such as untreated syphilis (a sexually transmitted infection; STD) rarely can cause aortic aneurysm.
  • The muscular middle layer of the artery may be congenitally weak and thus prone to a dissecting aneurysm.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) intensifies the force of blood on the walls of the arteries and contributes to the development of dissecting aneurysms.
  • Syphilis may cause a saccular or fusiform aneurysm near the heart (now rare).
  • The arterial wall may be weakened as a result of trauma or complication of other diseases, possibly leading to saccular or fusiform aneurysms.

Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm

  • In the majority of cases there are no warning symptoms. More likely, an aortic aneurysm is detected with an x-ray or during a routine physical examination.
  • Aortic aneurysm may cause a pulsing feeling (similar to a heartbeat) in the abdomen.
  • Rarely, material shed from the aneurysm can cause foot pain, discoloration or sores on the toes or feet
  • Hoarseness, difficulty in swallowing, or persistent cough may indicate a saccular or fusiform aneurysm in the chest area.
  • A throbbing lump in the abdominal area, which may indicate that the aneurysm is about to burst. Severe backache, leg pain or a feeling of coldness in the leg (due to an embolus from a clot formed in an abdominal aneurysm), or severe abdominal pain (due to the rupture of an abdominal aneurysm) may indicate a saccular or fusiform aneurysm in the abdominal area.
  • Severe chest pain that may be mistaken for a heart attack may signal a dissecting aneurysm.
  • A torn or leaking aortic aneurysm may cause vomiting, abnormal stiffness in the abdominal muscles, swelling or bulging in one area of the abdomen and clammy skin.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 24 Aug 2011

Last Modified: 07 Oct 2014