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Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

An aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement of part of a blood vessel. This enlargement, or stretching, weakens the wall of the vessel. This increases the risk of rupture. Ruptures can be fatal.

A ruptured aneurysm of the aorta is a serious problem because the aorta is the largest artery in the body. It takes oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Aneurysms can be treated with surgical replacement, usually with a synthetic tube graft.

An aortic aneurysm is different from aortic dissection. Aortic dissection is a separation of the aortic wall layers, usually caused by hypertension or atherosclerosis. An aortic dissection is also potentially fatal and requires emergency surgery.

Why choose Presbyterian for your aortic aneurysm surgery?

Presbyterian Heart and Vascular care features a skilled team of healthcare professionals who can provide a wide range of services from diagnosis to treatment. Their cardiothoracic surgeons are trained in some of the most innovative techniques in heart surgery, providing their patients with faster recoveries and less hospital time.

Who is eligible for an aortic aneurysm surgery?

People often don't know when they have an aneurysm since there are usually no symptoms unless it ruptures. A patient who has been diagnosed needs to be treated surgically to avoid a rupture.

You may be checked for an aortic aneurysm if you have:

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

  • Injury from trauma (for example, a car accident).

  • Congenital heart defect (present from birth).

  • A smoking habit. Smoking weakens the walls of arteries.

  • Chronic or untreated hypertension (high blood pressure).

  • Inherited conditions (for example, Marfan syndrome, Loeys-Dietz syndrome)

Large aneurysms can be seen on a chest X-ray, MRI, echocardiogram, or CT scan. These tests also help to determine the exact location and size of the aneurysm. When a small aneurysm is found, it may not need surgery. Your doctor will monitor it regularly, usually every 6-12 months, to see if it is growing and requires surgery.

What conditions can be treated with an aortic aneurysm surgery?

Aortic aneurysm surgery treats aortic aneurysms.

How do I prepare for an aortic aneurysm surgery?

You can prepare for surgery by:

  • Answering all your doctor's questions about your medical history and any prescribed medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins you are taking.

  • Following instructions about eating, drinking, and taking your medications before the procedure.

What should I expect during my aortic aneurysm surgery?

  • Through intravenous medication and general anesthesia, you will be made comfortable and unconscious for the entirety of the procedure.

  • A cut of several inches is made in the center of the chest. (sternotomy) it is generally the length of the breastbone.

  • The sternum (breastbone) is opened.

  • The heart is stopped, and you will be connected to a heart-lung machine that takes over pumping blood.

  • The surgeon opens the chest to expose the aorta in the area of the aneurysm and removes the diseased portion of the aorta. A fabric tube, or graft, is sewn onto both cut ends to replace the removed portion.
  • The heart is restarted and taken off of the heart-lung machine.

  • The breastbone is closed with permanent stainless steel wire (MRI safe)  to allow it to heal; the rest of the skin and muscle is closed with sutures that eventually dissolve.

  • You will wake up in ICU on a ventilator. You will be closely monitored, given oxygen, and hooked up to IVs for nutrition, fluids, and medication. You will have chest tubes and possibly temporary pacing wires.

  • You will be moved out of ICU and into a regular hospital room once the care team is happy with your condition, and you will stay for a few days. Here, doctors make sure there are no signs of infection and will help to alleviate pain. Then, you will begin to work in regular movement and breathing exercises.

How do I care for myself after my aortic aneurysm surgery?

You can expect the cut (incision) in your chest to be sore for a few weeks. If you have stitches or staples in your incision, the doctor will take these out one to three weeks after surgery.

You will feel more tired than usual for several weeks. You may be able to do many of your usual activities after 4-6 weeks. But you will probably need two to three months to recover fully.

  • No driving for 4 to 6 weeks or while on narcotic medications.

  • Rest when you feel tired, but try a moderate activity like taking a walk each day. This boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.

  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for up to three months.

  • For six weeks, avoid lifting anything more than 10 pounds. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags, or a heavy backpack.

  • Do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your doctor. This will help prevent pneumonia.

  • You will probably need to take at least four to six weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

Doctor holding patient's hand in hospital.

Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Care Providers

Our team of highly skilled doctors and clinicians offers a full range of heart-related services from diagnosis and treatment to monitoring.

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