What is a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?
A Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm, also known as TAA, is an aortic aneurysm weakening or bulging in the wall of the aorta, your body’s main blood vessel. The aorta feeds oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of your body. Aneurysms can cause the aorta to grow several times its normal size. Thoracic aortic aneurysms differ from abdominal aortic aneurysms in that they occur in the chest area rather than in the abdomen. They may also occur in the aortic root, the ascending aorta, the aortic arch or the descending aorta.
What are the Symptoms of TAA?
It is estimated that about 15,000 people a year in the United States suffer from TAA, but most of those patients experience no symptoms at all. There are no specific symptoms for TAA, but some patients with advanced cases may experience pain in the jaw, neck, upper back, chest or lower back, as well as coughing, hoarseness or difficulty breathing.
As a result of the lack of symptoms, many such aneurysms are diagnosed in an advanced state. Many TAAs are discovered by accident when the patient has a physical examination or, for some other reason, undergoes tests such as an x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.
Who is At Risk for Aortic Aneurysm?
Risk Factors include:
- family history
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
An aortic aneurysm presents a very high risk to your health. Internal bleeding caused by an aneurysm rupture or tear can be life-threatening. Once an aneurysm has been identified, your doctor will keep an eye on the size of your aneurysm with regular CT scans and medication to control blood pressure levels. However, once the aneurysm reaches a certain size, your doctor will determine that the aneurysm will require repair.
How is a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm Treated?
A Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm has historically been treated with open surgery, where the aneurysm is removed and replaced with a graft. Surgery comes with significant risks, a long hospital stay and considerable recovery time. While it is still an accepted and effective treatment for TAAs, a new, less-invasive option has become available to patients who require repair for TAAs. This procedure is called Thoracic Endovascular Repair and it offers fewer complications, less blood loss and a faster return to normal activity.
Using a catheter-based stent graft inserted through small incisions in the femoral artery near the groin, a TAA can be treated from inside the aorta. (see Thoracic Stent Endograft animation)
The stent graft is compressed into the end of a catheter, which is threaded through the artery up to the site of the aneurysm. The surgeon then expands the graft to fit the inside diameter of your aorta. The implanted graft blocks blood flow to the ballooning portion of the aortic wall and prohibits the aneurysm from growing any further, thereby eliminating the risk of rupture and restoring blood flow through the aorta to its natural course. A balloon is used to secure the stent within the aorta and prevent the device from sliding.
Your surgeon will use your state of health and the size and location of the aneurysm to determine which treatment option is best for you.
What happens after Endovascular Repair of TAA?
Hospital stays for this procedure range from 1 to 3 days. Your surgeon will follow up with you 3 weeks. You can expect to make a full recovery within 1 to 2 weeks. You will need a follow-up CT scan every 4 months for the first year after your procedure. After one year, you will require annual CT scans.
Surgeons who specialize in treating Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms
- Mark Felger, MD
- Stephen Dewan, MD
- Joe K. Wells, MD
- Scott Seidel, MD
- R. Brent New, MD
- Faraz Kerendi, MD
- Brannon R. Hyde, M.D.
Thoracic Stent Endograft
Watch an Animation of the Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm Repair Procedure.