| What is Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm or TAA?
A Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm or TAA is an abnormal bulge in a weakened wall of your aorta. The aorta is your body’s largest artery and carries oxygen-filled blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The aorta extends from your chest to your lower abdomen. The part of that artery that is in your chest is called the thoracic aorta and the abdominal aorta is located below that.
The aorta normally ranges in size from 0.75 ” to 1.75 ”, roughly the diameter of your garden hose. An aneurysm can cause it to grow to several times its natural size, weakening it, and possibly causing it to rupture, which can lead to internal bleeding, and possibly death.
What Causes a TAA?
A disease called atherosclerosis most often causes thoracic aortic aneurysms. This involves hardening of the arteries that damages the artery's walls. While your arteries are normally smooth on the inside, as you age, a sticky substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. Over time, excess plaque causes the aorta to stiffen and weaken.
Your risk for atherosclerosis increases if you:
- Are a smoker
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Are overweight
- Have a family history of cardiovascular or peripheral vascular disease (a narrowing of the blood vessels)
Certain diseases can also weaken the layers of the aortic wall and increase the risk of thoracic aortic aneurysms, including:
- Marfan syndrome (a genetic connective tissue disorder)
- Other non-specific connective tissue disorders (characterized by a family history of aneurysms)
- Presence of a bicuspid aortic valve
What Are the Symptoms of a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?
Thoracic aortic aneurysms often go unnoticed because patients rarely feel any symptoms. While only half of those with thoracic aortic aneurysms complain of symptoms, possible warning signs may include:
- Pain in the jaw, neck, and upper back
- Chest or back pain
- Coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing