An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge or ballooning of an artery, caused by weakening of the artery wall. Aortic aneurysms occur in the aorta, the major blood vessel that carries blood from your heart to the rest of the body. Similar to the popping of an overinflated balloon, the aneurysm may rupture if the artery wall stretches too thin. When aneurysms rupture, there is the potential for fatal bleeding.
Our approach to aneurysms
UCSF is home to a world-renowned program in endovascular surgery, one of the largest and oldest programs of its kind. Our vascular surgeons helped pioneer many of the endovascular procedures that are used to treat aortic aneurysms today. These minimally invasive procedures offer many benefits compared to traditional open surgery, including faster recovery, less postoperative pain and reduced risk for patients with other medical conditions.
Each year, we perform more than 150 repairs of endovascular aneurysms, more than any other medical center on the West Coast. We have extensive experience with technically challenging surgeries for complex aortic aneurysms, such as those involving arteries supplying blood to the kidneys or intestines.
Awards & recognition
Among the top hospitals in the nation
Rated high-performing hospital for abdominal aortic aneurysm
Signs & symptoms
Many patients with aneurysms of the aorta have no symptoms, causing the condition to remain undiagnosed until the aneurysm ruptures. Other aneurysms are discovered during computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that are performed for other health problems.
Some patients have mild symptoms of pain or discomfort in the area of the aneurysm. Severe abdominal, back or groin pain in a patient with an aneurysm could be due to a ruptured aneurysm and should be treated immediately.
Almost all aneurysms can be detected with safe and painless non-invasive tests, such as ultrasound studies or computed tomography (CT) scans.
Large aneurysms may require surgery while small ones are closely monitored with ultrasound and may never grow large enough to require surgery.
Aneurysms of the aorta that are large enough to require repair are treated with one of the following:
- Conventional surgery. A synthetic graft is sewn inside the aneurysm to the artery above and below it to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.
- Endovascular repair. A newer procedure that uses a catheter inserted in the groin to guide a self-expanding graft to the aneurysm. Endovascular repair does not require an abdominal incision and has a substantially shorter recovery. Not all aneurysms are suitable for endovascular repair.
Smaller aneurysms are monitored with ultrasound tests to watch their growth. Many never enlarge to a size that requires repair.
Aneurysms also can occur in other blood vessels, particularly in the arteries of the leg. These aneurysms are dangerous because they generally contain blood clots. The blood clots can break off and block arteries that are further downstream.
In other instances, the entire aneurysm can clot. Both of these situations can lead to decreased blood flow to the leg. Therefore, aneurysms found in the arteries of the leg are usually repaired as soon as possible once they are detected.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.