Acclaimed soccer journalist Grant Wahl reportedly died of a ruptured ascending aortic aneurysm while covering the World Cup in Qatar, according to his wife, who cited an autopsy.
The condition is a familiar one to Dr. Christopher Burke, a UW Medicine cardiothoracic surgeon. He says family history is the best indicator for early detection of this type of aneurysm.
“Unfortunately for a lot of patients, these aneurysms don't cause symptoms until they cause a catastrophic problem,” said Burke, who’s an assistant professor of surgery. “We really know of about 30 genes or so that we can test for. So, when this runs in families, you can actually take genetic screening tests sometimes and identify the particular mutation of one of those genes.”
The aorta is the body's largest artery, delivering blood to many organs. The ascending aorta is just above where the vessel connects via valve to the heart. An aneurysm is an abnormal swelling of a blood vessel.
“Many aneurysms come to me after being picked up on imaging studies for other reasons,” such as chest X-rays or CT (computed tomography) scans, Burke said.
Early detection may only require routine monitoring, but an undetected aneurysm can tear, warranting emergency surgery.
“For an aortic dissection, a type-A dissection that occurs close to the heart, the rate of death without surgical intervention is about 50% 48 hours after the event,” said Burke, adding that the risk of death increases about 1% per hour. “That's why timely diagnosis and surgical intervention is critical.”