What Is an Aortic Aneurysm?

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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Has your doctor told you that you’re at risk for an aortic aneurysm? Medicare Part B may cover a screening test for you. Learn about aortic aneurysms and what you can do if you are at risk.

What is an aortic aneurysm?

An aortic aneurysm is a bulging or ballooning of the aorta, which is the main artery that carries blood away from the heart and into the rest of the body, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus. There are two main types of aortic aneurysm: thoracic and abdominal. Abdominal aortic aneurysm is more common in adults over age 65.

Aortic aneurysms were responsible for nearly 10,000 U.S. deaths in 2014 alone, and a contributing factor in some 17,000 more, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They can cause harm in two main ways:

  • The aneurysm can separate the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to seep out, or leak, between them. This is called a dissection.
  • The aneurysm can burst completely, causing severe internal bleeding. This is called a rupture.

The CDC lists the following risk factors for aortic aneurysm:

  • A history of smoking or tobacco use
  • Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
  • High blood pressure
  • Infection
  • Family history and genetic factors, such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

What are the symptoms of aortic aneurysm?

The National Institutes of Health notes that one of the dangers of aortic aneurysm is that you might have no symptoms at all. If present, the symptoms of aortic aneurysm may be different for each type, according to the CDC.

Thoracic aortic aneurysm:

These aneurysms occur in the chest and are equally common in both men and women; the risk increases with age. Most thoracic aortic aneurysms are caused by high blood pressure or sudden injury, but hereditary diseases of the connective tissue such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome can also cause them, the CDC reports.

Symptoms include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest or upper back pain
  • Acute shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

Abdominal aortic aneurysm:

These aneurysms occur below the chest and are most common among white males over age 65, according to the CDC. These tend to occur mainly in people with atherosclerosis, although injury and infection can also cause an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Often, they have no obvious symptoms, but signs may include:

  • Deep, throbbing pain in the back or side
  • Groin, leg, or buttock pain

What is the treatment for aortic aneurysm?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that if your thoracic or abdominal aortic aneurysm is small and not causing any symptoms, your doctor may recommend regular medical monitoring and treatment of any conditions such as high blood pressure or atherosclerosis that may cause your aneurysm to worsen. According to the CDC, treatment can involve prescription medications instead of surgery in some cases.

If your aneurysm is large or in danger of rupture or dissection, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment. Surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is highly complex and requires an experienced surgeon, according to the NIH. Two of the main surgical options for aortic aneurysm repair are:

  • Abdominal surgery. This is a major procedure in which the surgeon removes the aneurysm and replaces it with a synthetic graft. Recovery might take a month or more.
  • Endovascular surgery. This is a less invasive procedure. Your surgeon threads a catheter through an artery in your leg into your aorta and attaches a graft to the aneurysm itself to strengthen the weakened section and prevent rupture.

Does Medicare cover aortic aneurysms?

Under Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), allowable charges for care you receive as an inpatient in the hospital are covered by Part A, while your doctor visits, tests, supplies, and most outpatient services are covered under Part B.

Medicare Part B also covers a one-time abdominal aortic ultrasound examination to screen for the condition. You must have one of the following risk factors to be eligible:

  • You have a family history of aortic aneurysm
  • You’re a male 65 to 75 years old who has smoked at least 100 cigarettes

You pay nothing for this test if your health-care provider accepts Medicare assignment.

If you’re concerned about out-of-pocket costs associated with diagnosing and treating an aortic aneurysm, you may want to consider a Medicare Supplement plan. Medigap (Medicare Supplement) plans are offered by private insurance companies and can help you pay your out-of-pocket costs for services covered under Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage plans are another way to receive your Medicare benefits; these plans are required to cover the same services as Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), although your hospice care is still covered under Part A. Medicare Advantage plans usually offer prescription drug coverage and may offer other benefits such as routine vision, hearing, and dental care.

I would be happy to help you figure out your Medicare plan options.

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