Your veins and your arteries are called blood vessels. When these blood vessels bulge abnormally for a period of time they are called aneurysms. The problem with an aneurysm is that it can burst and kill you and further it presents with no symptoms. These aneurysms also can split. This is called a dissection. I have had experience with both.
Many people develop brain aneurysms that rupture. These are strokes and about 27,000 people in the United States have this situation each year.
There are aneurysms that occur in the aorta both ascending (thoracic) and abdominal which is in the abdomen. Abdominal aneurysms account for about 75 percent of the 14,000 aortic aneurysms people die from each year.
According to my reference material 20 percent of aortic aneurysms are genetic. Other causes include smoking, diet and infections as well as trauma. It goes on to report that women between the ages of 30 and 60 are most likely to have brain aneurysms and men over age 65 the most likely to have aortic aneurysms.
Back in the mid-1960’s my father-in-law developed an aneurysm of the ascending aorta. In those days that was the kiss of death. However there was a doctor down in Texas named Michael DeBakey who was a research pioneer. He developed a Dacron replacement for the aorta. He saved my father-in-law’s life. He lived an additional 20 years. He experienced an abdominal aneurysm before he died.
I was a “Type A” personality in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I smoked three packs of strong menthol cigarettes per day. They were very strong. I worked long hours and got no exercise. Further I ate what I wanted.
On May 29th, 1988, I had a very bad headache that was localized above my right eye. I was lying on the couch and when I got up my left leg was numb and my left foot wouldn’t work. Further I had a numb feeling in my stomach like you get when your arm “goes to sleep.” I was taken to the hospital. I was only 39-years-old.
Upon arrival at the hospital my blood pressure was 240/120. I was immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
My family physician called in several specialists. They did a number of tests. One of the tests I had done was a scan of my carotid arteries. These are the two main arteries that run under your ears and feed your brain among other areas. While the technician was scanning my right carotid she dropped the tool and screamed and ran out of the room. The blood flow was completely blocked. Most people would have died. However my left carotid somehow took over. Research by my doctor indicated that it was a “dissection” and that a carotid taking over like mine did happened about 200 times in history. I was and am lucky to be alive.
Aneurysms are extremely dangerous because they don’t cause pain. What can you do?
The older you get, have routine exams closer together. These days you must watch your diet particularly with respect to salt (sodium) and fats. If you are on medications take them as directed. Finally, you need to exercise on a regular basis.
It is important to understand that we live much longer now and it is up to us to prevent deadly medical conditions such as aneurysms. After the fact just doesn’t work.
“When Blood Vessels Bulge,” Article, Newsletter, NIH News in Health, March 2010
Personal Experience and Knowledge