Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms, Tests & Treatments | MedStar Health

Combined expertise to care for this complex type of aneurysm

Weakened bulges (aneurysms) can develop anywhere along the aorta, the body’s largest artery, which runs from the chest through the belly. A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the upper part of the aorta in the chest.

Our heart and vascular surgeons combine their expertise in our Complex Aortic Center, one of the few programs in the mid-Atlantic region that treats complex cases.

We use minimally invasive techniques along with more traditional open surgery to treat this condition.

A thoracic aortic aneurysm increases your risk of aortic rupture, in which the aneurysm bursts and can cause major internal bleeding. Aneurysms that don’t burst can be dangerous if they grow large enough to form blood clots or interfere with the blood’s circulation.

What are the causes and symptoms of thoracic aneurysm?

Plaque buildup in the artery, known as atherosclerosis, is the most common cause. Other conditions that may cause it include high blood pressure, congenital disorders, such as marfan syndrome, aortic dissection, and injuries to the chest.

Thoracic aortic aneurysms may be difficult to detect because they grow slowly and may not cause symptoms until they begin to leak or rupture. These symptoms may include:

  • Back pain
  • Cough and hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tenderness or pain in the chest

If it ruptures, symptoms might include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the chest, neck, jaw, or arms
  • Sudden, severe pain in the upper back that radiates downward

Call 911 right away if you think you have an aneurysm that has burst.


Diagnosing a thoracic aortic aneurysm is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

  • Abdominal Duplex Ultrasound: Abdominal duplex ultrasound is a combination of a traditional and Doppler ultrasound that assesses the blood vessels in your abdomen for blockages or aneurysms.

  • Cardiac Catheterization: Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

  • Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, uses a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


Treatment will depend on the size and growth rate of your aneurysm. Smaller aneurysms may only need close monitoring or medication to lower your blood pressure to reduce cholesterol levels. Larger aneurysms may require more advanced treatment, including surgery.

  • Endovascular Complex Repair of Thoracoabdominal Aneurysms: Endovascular complex repair of thoracoabdominal aneurysms is a minimally invasive treatment that involves smaller incisions, less pain and faster recovery than traditional open surgery for these aneurysms, which often can be difficult to treat.

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