A peripheral aneurysm is an aneurysm that affects any artery other than your aorta, or the major artery that leads from your heart and runs through your chest and abdomen. It occurs when part of an artery wall becomes enlarged or weakened.
Although most aneurysms do develop somewhere in the aortic artery, they can also develop in any of the other arteries in your body, which are collectively known as peripheral arteries. Peripheral aneurysms most often affect the arteries in your legs (popliteal arteries) or neck (carotid arteries), but they can also occur in your arms (brachial arteries), groin (femoral arteries), kidneys (renal arteries), and gastrointestinal tract (mesenteric arteries).
Although there’s no specific cause of peripheral aneurysms, there are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of having one. Peripheral aneurysms are usually genetic, meaning if someone in your family has had one, you’re more likely to develop one. Also, having a peripheral aneurysm in one area increases your risk of developing another one somewhere else. Splenic aneurysms tend to be more common in women who have had multiple children. Peripheral aneurysms are also relatively common in dialysis patients with AV vascular access sites. Smoking is the biggest controllable cause of peripheral aneurysms.
Although the risk of rupture is lower with peripheral aneurysms, they can still make the affected area prone to clotting and interrupted blood flow. A clot that blocks blood flow for an extensive amount of time can be especially dangerous, leading to tissue or organ loss. Peripheral aneurysms may also compress nearby tissues, putting pressure on surrounding nerves or veins. This can cause pain, numbness, or swelling.
Because peripheral aneurysms don’t always cause symptoms, they’re often diagnosed by chance while testing for other health problems. If you have a peripheral aneurysm, it won’t go away unless it’s treated. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure may help with smaller peripheral aneurysms. For larger aneurysms, treatment may include open surgical repair to remove the aneurysm and replace it with a graft, or endovascular repair, a minimally invasive procedure that places a stent in the vessel to help keep it open.
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