A thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm (TAAA) is a thoracic aneurysm that starts in the chest and extends down to the abdominal aorta. Sanford Vascular Innovations invented the Medtronic® Valiant TAAA Stent Graft System as a less invasive TAAA treatment. For more information and frequently asked questions, please read below.
What is an aneurysm?
Your arteries are the blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the tissues of your body. The aorta is a large artery that leads from your heart down through the inside of your chest and belly (abdomen). The section that goes through the chest is called the thoracic aorta and the section that goes through the abdomen is called the abdominal aorta.
The walls of your aorta are normally thick enough to withstand the force of the blood pressure from the heart. But some health problems can damage the walls of the aorta. This can cause a weakness and balloon-like bulge in the wall of the aorta called an aneurysm. In some cases an aneurysm can start to split or even burst. This can often cause death.
What causes an aneurysm to form?
The exact cause is not known. Some risk factors are:
- Age greater than 50
- Family history
- Hyperlipidemia (high fats in the blood)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Another risk factor that can cause an aneurysm to form is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a type of thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque (a fatty material) in the inner lining of an artery.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start as early as childhood. The disease has the potential to progress rapidly. It is unknown exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it. However, there is a gradual buildup of plaque or thickening of the inside of the walls of the artery. This causes a decrease in the amount of blood flow, and a decrease in the oxygen supply to the vital body organs and extremities. It can also lead to weakening of the aortic wall.
What are the symptoms of a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm?
You may or may not have symptoms with TAAA. It is often found when tests (such as an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan) are done for an unrelated problem. Sometimes aneurysms are found by your doctor while feeling your stomach during a routine exam. This is not the case for thoracic aneurysms. If your doctor feels an aneurysm in your stomach, more testing may be done to check the progression of the aneurysm.
The pain associated with a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm may be located in the abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area. The pain may be severe or dull. A sudden onset of severe pain in the back and/or abdomen may mean the aneurysm has burst. This is very serious and often fatal.
What are the treatment options for a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm?
Your doctor will base your treatment on:
- Your age, health, and medical history
- Extent of the disease
- Your signs and symptoms
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Your opinion or preference
If the aneurysm is small or is one that does not cause symptoms, surgery may not be needed until it reaches a certain size or it is increasing in size over a short period of time. Your doctor may recommend “watchful waiting.” This may include:
A CT scan or ultrasound every 6 months to monitor the size and rate of growth of the aneurysm
Blood pressure medication to control high blood pressure
Steps, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, controlling blood sugar and dietary fat intake to help slow the progression of the aneurysm
If the aneurysm is large or causing symptoms, surgery may be recommended by your doctor. The type of surgical repair for a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm will depend on several factors:
- The location of the aneurysm
- The type of aneurysm
- The patient’s tolerance for the procedure
How does the Medtronic® Valiant TAAA Stent Graft System work?
The Medtronic® Valiant TAAA Stent Graft is a less invasive procedure in which a stent-graft is inserted inside the aorta.
- Small incisions are made to get to the artery.
- While watching the catheter on a video monitor, your doctor places a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into the artery.
- The stent graft is guided through the catheter.
- When the stent graft reaches the aorta, your doctor will open it up and fasten it in place. It is held in place with stents (metal springs), hooks or pins. The blood is now re-routed through the graft. It protects that part of the aorta so that the aneurysm will not burst.
- The catheter is removed. The incision sites are closed with sutures or staples.
What are the risks and complications?
Every procedure has some risks. Some of the major risks of these procedures include but are not limited to:
- Blood clots in legs
- Kidney failure
- Respiratory failure
- Injury to the colon’s blood supply
- Erectile dysfunction
- Spinal cord injury
- Heart attack, stroke, or death
Your risks may vary depending on your age, overall health, the size of the aneurysm, where it is located, and the type of surgery recommended. Talk with your doctor to learn which risks apply to you. Tell him or her any concerns or questions you have.