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.