Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Aortic aneurysm

4-minute read

An aneurysm is a bulge or weakness in a blood vessel. When this happens in the aorta (one of main blood vessels in the body), it’s called an aortic aneurysm. Small aortic aneurysms don’t need to be treated, but larger ones will need surgery in case they burst.

Types of aortic aneurysm

The aorta is a blood vessel about the thickness of a garden hose that carries blood from the heart through the centre of the chest and into the abdomen.

Aortic aneurysms can happen anywhere along the length of the aorta, but they are most common in the lower part. This is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. When they happen in the upper part of the aorta, in the chest, it is called a thoracic aortic aneurysm.

The bulge in the aorta happens when part of the blood vessel grows weak and expands under pressure. Aneurysms usually start small and then grow bigger as the pressure increases. They usually grow very slowly.

Sometimes aneurysms burst and cause bleeding inside your body. Because the aorta is such a large blood vessel, this can be very dangerous and is often fatal.

illustration comparing a normal aorta with a ruptured aorta
Aortic aneurisms greater than 5.5cm often require surgery to reduce the risk of rupture

Aortic aneurysm symptoms

Aortic aneurysms usually don't have any symptoms until they burst. Signs of a possible aortic aneurysm in your chest include:

  • pain in your chest or back
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing or being hoarse

If the aneurysm is in your abdomen, signs can include:

  • pain in your back
  • a deep pain on the side of your abdomen
  • a throbbing feeling near your belly button

Aortic aneurysm diagnosis

There is no screening in Australia for aortic aneurysms. Often they are found when people see their doctor for something else, such as prostate problems or gallstones.

Your doctor might suggest you have an ultrasound scan if you are at high risk of an aortic aneurysm, for example if you are a man aged over 60, a smoker, have high blood pressure, have hardening of the arteries, or if you have a brother or father who had had an aortic aneurysm.

Most people with an aortic aneurysm will have a CT scan or MRI scan so the doctor can look at it in more detail.

Aortic aneurysm treatment

Small aneurysms less than 5.5 cm across do not need treatment. You will need to see your doctor and have ultrasound scans regularly to keep an eye on the aneurysm.

Aneurysms larger than 5.5 cm across will probably need surgery because they are more likely to burst. You might also need surgery if the aneurysm is smaller but growing quickly or causing other problems.

Until recently, the only treatment for an aortic aneurysm was open surgery, a major operation that replaces the faulty part of the aorta with an artificial blood vessel. Patients usually stay in hospital for 7 to 10 days and will spend some time in intensive care.

Some people may be able to have a stent inserted into the aneurysm through small cuts in the groin to strengthen the wall of the aorta. This is called endovascular surgery. It is not suitable for all types of aortic aneurysm. Another possibility is to repair the aortic aneurysm via keyhole surgery.

You may also be given medicines to lower the risk of the aneurysm bursting.

Aortic aneurysm prevention

It is not possible to prevent an aortic aneurysm, but it is possible to stop it from growing. If you have an aortic aneurysm, you should stop smoking and follow your doctor’s advice for keeping your blood pressure down and treating hardening of the arteries.

When to seek help

If you have an aortic aneurysm that bursts, you need to go straight to hospital. Symptoms of a burst aortic aneurysm include:

  • chest pain
  • a pulsating in your abdomen
  • severe pain in your back, side or abdomen
  • feeling nauseas or vomiting
  • becoming sweaty and dizzy

Where to seek more information

The Australian and New Zealand Society for Vascular Surgery provides patient information on aortic aneurysm.

If you want help quitting smoking, call the Quitline on 13 7848.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Aneurysm - Better Health Channel

An aneurysm may have no symptoms until it is either very large or it ruptures.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Aneurysm - Brain Foundation

Aneurysm Cerebral Aneurysm, Brain Aneurysm Description Cerebral aneurysm is a common disorder caused by a weakness in the wall of a brain artery

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Aneurysm -

An aneurysm is a swelling that occurs in an artery or vein when its wall is weakened.The greatest danger from an aneurysm is that it may rupture (burst). When a brain aneurysm ruptures and bleed

Read more on myDr website

Interventional Radiological Treatment of Intracranial (Brain) Aneurysms - InsideRadiology

An intracranial (brain) aneurysm is an abnormal ballooning of the wall of an artery, which is a type of blood vessel carrying blood to the brain.

Read more on InsideRadiology website

Subarachnoid Haemorrhage - Brain Foundation

Subarachnoid Haemorrhage Description Subarachnoid Haemorrhage is the sudden leaking (haemorrhage) of a blood vessel over the surface of the brain

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Haemorrhagic stroke Stroke Foundation - Australia

Information about stroke

Read more on Stroke Foundation website

Connective tissue dysplasia | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

The name "connective tissue dysplasia" covers a wide range of disorders

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

What Is Headache - Headache Australia

One of the Most Common Symptoms Experienced by Humans. Headache is one of the commonest symptoms experienced by humans. In fact, it is quite unusual not to have at least an occasional headache. Why some people never experience headache is not known. It is probably linked with their inheritance of the chemical transmitters that pass... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Home Care - What I can do- Recognise End of Life

End of life is when a person is living with, and impaired by, a fatal condition, even if the trajectory is ambiguous or unknown. This period may be years in the case of people with chronic or malignant disease, or very brief in the case of people who suffer acute and unexpected illnesses or events, such as sepsis, stroke or trauma.

Read more on End of Life Directions for Aged Care ELDAC website

Depression and stroke

Having a stroke can result in many changes. On a physical level, it can lead to people finding it difficult to move and swallow. Having a stroke can also cause stress, worry and sadness.

Read more on beyondblue website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo