An ascending aortic aneurysm is an abnormal widening or swelling of the portion of the aorta in the human heart known as the ascending aorta. An aneurysm happens because of a weakening of the walls of the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body. The portion that passes through the chest is known as the thoracic aorta, and it contains the ascending aorta.
The ascending aorta begins at the heart's left ventricle and extends to the aortic arch, or the bend in the aorta. The portion of the aorta beyond the aortic arch but still within the thoracic cavity is known as the descending aorta. The aorta is one continuous blood vessel, and its function is to supply clean, oxygenated blood to the body.
The fibers that make up the ascending aorta have an elastic nature that allows the aorta to expand slightly as blood is pumped from the heart. An ascending aortic aneurysm commonly occurs when the fibers lose their elasticity or when the fibers or the aortic wall harden. Another cause of ascending aortic aneurysm is aortic dissection, which is a condition involving the separation of the inner and middle layers of the aortic wall. A variety of infections and genetic disorders can lead to the development of ascending aortic aneurysms, as can lifestyle issues such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
An aortic aneurysm needs medical attention, because it is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. The major problem with early detection of the presence of an aneurysm is that there are very few symptoms. Unless there is rapid expansion of the aneurysm, it begins to leak, or it causes the aortic valve to leak, there often are no symptoms. Rapid growth or leakage may cause the patient to suffer upper back pain or pain around the diaphragm and shortness of breath. A large aneurysm could cause a patient to experience difficulty swallowing and hoarseness.
As many as 40 percent of aortic aneurysms are detected via echocardiograms, thoracic CT scans and chest X-rays performed for unrelated reasons. Once an ascending aortic aneurysm is detected, its growth and size are monitored closely. Surgery will be conducted, when necessary, to remove the piece of the aorta containing the aneurysm and replace it with synthetic material. There is no medication, as of 2010, to reduce the size of an aneurysm or to stop its growth, but positive lifestyle changes are important in controlling and managing the condition. Smoking cessation, a healthy diet and a reduction in cholesterol are important in ascending aortic aneurysm management.