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Enlarged Aorta

Q: I'm pretty active and health-conscious, but during my recent annual physical my doctor mentioned something about an enlarged aorta after listening to my heart. He didn't seem too concerned about it, and when I asked if I should see a heart specialist he said "no." Still, I'm worried: Is my health in danger, and should I be doing something about it?

Dr. Donnica:
It's unlikely that your doctor would make the diagnosis of an enlarged aorta (the major artery that goes from the heart to the rest of the body) from a physical exam alone. If this is suspected, a chest x-ray is indicated. Ask your doctor about this, even if you don't have other cardiac risk factors. If an aortic enlargement or "aneurysm" was confirmed, a cardiology consult would be indicated. If the enlargement is greater than 5 centimeters, surgical repair is indicated in order to prevent a rare but fatal condition called aortic dissection or rupture; this was the cause of death for actor John Ritter and 15,000 other Americans this past year.

Aortic enlargements can be hereditary or caused by injury, infection or a congenital weakness in the connective tissue of the artery wall. Cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, or clogging and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) can make the condition worse.

Created: 2/22/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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