10 aortic aneurysm symptoms
The aorta is the major artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The aortic walls are strong enough to contain the blood as pressure pushes it into the smaller arteries. Sometimes the walls of the aorta start to fail, resulting in a bulge on the side of the vessel, which is known as an aortic aneurysm. This potentially life-threatening emergency affects 5 to 10 people out of every 100,000 each year.1 It’s essential to recognize the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm, so you can take action right away. Seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one displays any of these aortic aneurysm symptoms.
Shortness of Breath or a Nagging Cough
As an aortic aneurysm expands, it can put pressure on the nerves around it, including the nerves that control breathing. An aneurysm pressing against the diaphragm or lungs can cause a nagging cough. If the aneurysm is pressing against the vagus nerve, which connects to the diaphragm at the bottom of the rib cage, it can cause shortness of breath ranging from mild and temporary to severe and chronic.2
Altered Voice Tone or Hoarseness
The pressure of an aneurysm on surrounding tissues can alter the pitch or timbre of a person’s voice. The laryngeal nerve runs down from the brain to the chest, loops under the aorta, and then rises back into the throat to connect with the voice box. Pressure on this nerve changes the way the larynx operates, which can cause hoarseness and other changes in the way a person’s voice sounds.
The esophagus runs down the middle of the chest, passing very close by the aorta on its way to the stomach. An aneurysm pressing against the esophagus can cause discomfort that feels like a lump in the throat. Swallowing food, water, or even saliva may require extra effort. In severe cases, the person may be completely unable to swallow.
Unexplained Feelings of Fullness or Bloating
Pressure from an aortic aneurysm can also make people feel full, even after minimal or no food intake. This may be a result of direct pressure on the stomach or surrounding tissues or by changes in blood pressure brought on by the aneurysm. The same process that causes it can also make people feel nauseous or throw up. Loss of appetite and feeling inexplicably full isn’t a very common aortic aneurysm symptom, but if it’s persistent, it should be looked into by a doctor.
Pulsating Mass in the Abdomen
People with abdominal aortic aneurysms often report feeling their pulse beating in their belly, or the feeling of hard palpitations. This can be because the aneurysm is swollen inside the abdomen and pulsing with every heartbeat. The palpitations could also be the result of pressure higher up on the vagus nerve.3
Cold Feet and Hands
The changes in blood flow that sometimes come with an aortic aneurysm can cause coldness in the extremities. It can also cause feelings of pins and needles due to the lack of circulation in the hands and feet. The aneurysm can also trigger the formation of blood clots, which may dislodge and cause blockages downstream in the arms and legs. In extreme cases, this can result in tissue death and the loss of affected parts of the body.
Dizziness or Vertigo
One of the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm is called orthostatic hypotension, which is a kind of low blood pressure most strongly felt when people sit or stand up.4 Vertigo from standing up may be a sign of altered blood flow and poor arterial response caused by an aneurysm. The dizziness and swirling feelings that go with this are normal once in a while, but if it happens a lot, it could be a sign of trouble.
Some constipation from time to time is usually nothing to worry about. However, constipation can also be an aortic aneurysm symptom, especially if it has no other obvious cause or lasts longer than a couple of days. This may be the result of altered blood supply to the gut, which affects how well the intestines can move waste.
Fever, Fatigue, or Unexplained Weight Loss
An inflamed aneurysm can cause problems all over the body. The body’s response to this inflammation can feel like the onset of a flu, including a persistent fever that may be mild or high. The inflammation can also affect organs far from the heart, such as the kidneys and bladder or stomach. This can show up as fever, fatigue, or an unexplained weight loss.
Severe pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of an aortic aneurysm.5 People describe it as tearing or gnawing, and it may feel like it’s located almost anywhere from the shoulders to the groin. Some people have even felt it radiating into their legs, although between the shoulder blades on the back is far more common. This pain can be extreme and may last anywhere from minutes to days.