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Learn About Mild Aortic Ectasia and How it Affects the Heart

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/28/2010

Mild aortic ectasia affects the cardiovascular system, so it's important to learn about the condition and its effects. Learn more about its causes and how it's treated.

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    About

    Mild aortic ectasia is defined as an enlargement of the aorta that is mild in degree. This condition is associated with aortic aneurysm. This is because, generally, if the aneurysm diameter is greater than 1.5 times a normal aorta’s size, it is known as an aneurysm.

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    Risk of Rupture

    Though the term ‘mild’ may indicate a lack in the seriousness of the condition, aortic aneurysms are serious. They can rupture and the risk of that happening increases as the size of the aneurysm grows. A rupture is serious because it can cause internal bleeding that is life-threatening.

    The risk factor for rupture is also affected by the aneurysm’s location. According to The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, about 15,000 people in the United States die annually from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

    If caught in time, the aortic aneurysm can be surgically repaired in many cases.

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    Echocardiography

    In a report on echocardiography in pathologies, aortic ectasia is addressed with the following, “Atherosclerosis, aortic dissection, aortic stenosis, Marfan syndrome, pulmonary emphysema, syphilis and aortitis (Takayasu's arteritis), they can cause dilation of the thoracic aorta. The dilation is well visualized with transthoracic echocardiography, though atherosclerosis or dissection signs are seen best with transesophageal echocardiography. The ascending aorta when shows a diameter from 3.9 to 4.4 cm we consider as mild ectasia, 4.5 to 4.9 cm moderate ectasia, and when it presents a diameter larger than 4.9 cm we consider aneurysm of the aorta.”

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    Other Factors

    Other factors considered when diagnosing aortic aneurysm are shape and cause. If the shape is fusiform (tapered ends), it is considered to be a true aneurysm in most cases.

    The causes for aortic aneurysm can be many different things that damage the arterial wall. A few of these causes are congenital weakness, trauma, dissection and weakening brought on by high blood pressure or smoking.

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    Symptoms

    Often there are no symptoms accompanying aortic aneurysms, unless it is pressing on tissue or organs. Another reason symptoms might appear is if the aneurysm causes dissection, meaning a tearing in the artery wall. In this case, the patient may experience stroke, abdominal pain, extremities that feel cold or numb and a severe tearing pain in the regions of the back or chest.

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    Treatment

    If no symptoms are present, and depending upon other factors such as location and overall health, the aortic aneurysm may be closely monitored, using imaging to help track its status.

    If symptoms are present or if there are other problems, surgery may be recommended for repair.

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    Summary

    Mild aortic ectasia is generally a treatable condition, related to aortic aneurysm. There are many factors involved in its diagnosis and treatment, but for many, the prognosis is good if caught early.

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    References

    Aortic Aneurysms. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. http://www.sts.org/sections/patientinformation/aneurysmsurgery/aorticaneurysms/

    Echocardiography in Pathologies of the Thoracic Aortic. Jamil Mattar Valente. Last Updated November 28, 2003. http://www.fac.org.ar/tcvc/llave/c211/mattar.htm