Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm

A thoracic aortic aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the aorta in the chest. This is more common in people with high blood pressure and people who smoke. If the bulge gets large enough it can rupture causing extreme pain and sometimes death.

How do we diagnose a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?

Chest X-Ray

If an aneurysm is large enough it can be visible on a chest x-ray.   Smaller aneurysms are very hard to see with x-ray though.


Echocardiography is a vascular ultrasound of the heart and beginning part of the thoracic aorta.  Sometimes it can be used to see an aortic aneurysm but most of the aorta in the chest cannot be seen with ultrasound.

Magnetic Resonance (MR)

MR and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) are more accurate tests to detect and measure thoracic aneurysms.  MRA is used less often because of cost but is more accurate and uses no radiation.  MRA may be the most accurate way to see if an aneurysm is at risk for rupture.

Computed Tomography (CT)

CT and computed tomography angiography (CTA) are the most accurate tests to detect and thoracic aneurysms.  If the aneurysm gets large enough it is at risk to rupture. Once detected the best way to measure the aneurysm and look for changes is a CTA exam.

How do we treat a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm?

Thoracic aneurysms that have gotten large enough are treated with a stent graft which creates a path through the bulge in the aorta which seals off the bulge.  In the chest this is often difficult because of important arteries that branch of the aorta in this region.  In rare cases surgery may be needed.