The aorta is the artery that carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart and on to other arteries that distribute it throughout the body. Aortic aneurysms develop when a weakened area of the aorta balloons or expands. Aortic aneurysms can occur in the stomach area (abdominal aortic aneurysm) or the chest area (thoracic aortic aneurysm) or may involve both (thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm).

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are relatively common and can also be life-threatening if they burst and cause severe internal bleeding. Symptoms may include:

  • A pulsating sensation in the abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen radiating toward the back

A minor thoracic aortic aneurysm may have little effect on an individual, but can also be life-threatening if it bursts and causes severe internal bleeding. Symptoms may include:

  • Upper chest and back pain
  • A dull pain near the breastbone or upper back

An aneurysm can grow large and rupture (burst) or dissect. A rupture causes dangerous bleeding inside the body. A dissection is a split in one or more layers of the artery wall. The split causes bleeding into and along the layers of the artery wall. This is almost always a fatal event.