Causes and Diagnoses

Causes, Risk Factors, Prevention and Tests to Diagnose Aortic Aneurysms

There are multiple factors that may contribute to the development of an aortic aneurysm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs in the aorta below the level of the diaphragm. A thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs in the aorta above the level of the diaphragm.

These factors include:

  • Atherosclerosis (deposits of fat, cholesterol and calcium) inside the aorta
  • Connective tissue disorders (affecting muscle or skin), such as Marfan syndrome 
  • Bicuspid aortic valve (heart valve defect that is present at birth)
  • Inflammatory disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Trauma to the chest
  • Family history of aneurysms or dissection

Although specific causes of aortic aneurysm are often unknown, the aorta can be damaged by:

  • Aging
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Trauma
  • Blood vessel diseases such as vasculitis, a somewhat rare condition that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own blood vessels

Risk factors:

  • Family history of aneurysm
  • High blood pressure
  • History of aneurysms in other areas of your body
  • Age (Your risk increases as you get older. AAA is most common after age 65.)
  • Male
  • Smoking


Some risk factors cannot be prevented, such as a family history of aneurysms.

However, there are some behaviors that can lower your risk of developing AAA or prevent one from worsening. These behaviors include:

  • Monitoring and managing your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Not smoking cigarettes, using vape pens or any other tobacco products
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet


Care teams use these tests to help diagnose aortic aneurysms:

If you have a diseased aorta, you should get regular diagnostic tests. These tests help your care team monitor your aorta. By closely watching your aorta, your care team can detect changes in your aorta that may require surgery.

Meet the Aortic Aneurysm Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.