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July 2023

Know the Warning Signs of an Aneurysm

An aneurysm occurs when a weak spot in an artery wall starts to bulge out like a balloon. Some aneurysms develop slowly over a period of years. Many cause no problems.

But other aneurysms grow quickly or burst, causing sudden symptoms that signal a medical emergency. Knowing how to recognize these symptoms could save your life.

Emergency symptoms

A ruptured aneurysm occurs when the bulging area in an artery wall develops a hole. This hole lets blood leak or gush into the body. When an aneurysm is expanding rapidly or has already ruptured, symptoms may come on abruptly. They may include:

  • Headache

  • Pain in the abdomen, back, or chest

  • Clammy skin

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rapid heartbeat

If you suddenly develop these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Watch for site-specific signs

Along with the symptoms listed above, an aneurysm may cause other symptoms depending on where it’s located in the body. These warning signs can tip you off to an urgent problem.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm

The aorta is the major artery carrying blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) occur in the lower part of the aorta. They frequently have no symptoms.

In the worst-case scenario, an AAA may rupture. Or it may lead to a dissection, in which layers of the artery wall split apart, allowing blood to leak in between. These problems can quickly become life-threatening. In addition to the emergency warning signs above, watch for intense pain in the back or belly, which doesn’t go away and sometimes spreads out to the buttocks and legs.

Thoracic aortic aneurysm

Thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) occur in the upper part of the aorta, which passes through the chest. Often, TAAs cause no symptoms. But if a TAA expands rapidly or ruptures, the situation can quickly turn dire. Watch for these red flags:

  • Sharp pain in the chest or upper back

  • Hoarseness

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Shortness of breath

  • High-pitched breathing

  • Swelling in the neck

Cerebral aneurysm

Cerebral aneurysms occur within the brain. There are a couple of ways these kinds of aneurysms can cause problems. They may rupture, spilling blood into surrounding brain tissue. Or they may press against brain tissue or a nerve.

Symptoms from a cerebral aneurysm vary. A small aneurysm that isn’t growing may cause no problems. However, a larger one that’s steadily expanding may cause symptoms. And as with other aneurysms, a rupture is a medical emergency. Watch for these red flags:

  • Headache, which may be sudden and severe

  • Numbness

  • Paralysis on one side of the face

  • Vision changes or double vision

  • Loss of vision

  • Eye pain

  • Neck stiffness

  • Loss of consciousness

Act quickly

Many aneurysms never cause these kinds of problems. But those that do can be dangerous—even deadly—so get medical help right away.







Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2022
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