Skip to Content
Also part of the UPMC family:

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm​

Descending Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysms

A descending thoracic aortic aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta, in the part that runs downward through the chest (thorax).

A thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm is one that is located in the area where the aorta crosses between the chest and abdomen.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons have expertise in treating these types of aneurysms.

What Are Descending Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysms?

The aorta — the largest artery in the body — carries all the blood that is pumped out of the heart.

Approximately 15,000 Americans are diagnosed with thoracic aneurysms (TAA) each year. Thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms (TAAA) are less common.

Complications of TAAs and TAAAs

TAAs and TAAAs are serious health risks because they can burst or rupture, causing severe internal bleeding that can rapidly lead to shock or death.

The larger the aneurysm, or the faster it grows, the more likely it is to rupture.

The risk of rupture increases when the aneurysm is larger than about twice the normal diameter of a healthy aorta blood vessel.

Why choose UPMC for thoracic aortic care?

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease, our multidisciplinary approach to care offers patients many benefits.

  • Integrated care so you can undergo a comprehensive evaluation at one location, instead of consulting many different specialists to address the various aspects of your TAA or TAAA.
  • Minimally invasive thoracic aortic treatment options include endovascular thoracic aortic repairs using stent grafts and aortic root reconstructions that preserve the aortic valve.
  • The latest cardiovascular research to advance patient care and form new strategies to better manage thoracic aortic disease.

To refer a patient, contact the UPMC Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease.

Learn More About Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysms

From the Society for Vascular Surgery

From our Health Library at

Descending Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms and Diagnosis

Thoracic aortic aneurysm symptoms

Descending thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) and thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms (TAAAs) often go unnoticed, yet early diagnosis is critical to managing these conditions.

Only half of all people with TAAs and TAAAs complain of symptoms, which can include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Back pain
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosing TAAs and TAAAs

If your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute suspects a TAA or TAAA, you'll need to undergo a thorough physical exam and evaluation.

Following your exam, your doctor may order additional tests and procedures to help confirm the presence and size of the thoracic aneurysm.

These diagnostic tests may include:

  • A chest x-ray
  • An ultrasound
  • An echocardiogram
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • An angiogram

Testing results

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available.

To refer a patient, contact the UPMC Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease.

Learn More About Testing for Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm 

From our Health Library at

Descending Thoracic and Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm Treatment

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease offers a full range of state-of-the-art aneurysm treatment strategies for thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) and thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms (TAAAs) caused by:

Aneurysm treatment depends on its size and location and your overall health.

If your aneurysm is small and not causing symptoms, your doctor may choose to monitor your condition. Surgeons consider aneurysm repair surgery when the TAA or TAAA becomes large.

TAA and TAAA treatment overview

Open aneurysm repair - A surgeon makes an incision in your chest and replaces the weakened portion of the aorta with a fabric tube, called a graft.

The surgeon may either repair or bypass vessels, if the aneurysm involves important branches of the aorta.

  • Where it occurs: Dilations of the aorta within the chest.
  • We advise surgery when: TAA reaches 6 centimeters or more in size.
  • Hospital stay: 5 to 7 days.
  • Recovery time: 2 to 3 months for a complete recovery, depending on the complexity of your case or other conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease.

Endovascular procedures - Less invasive endovascular stent graft uses long, thin tubes (called catheters) inserted through small incisions in your groin.

  • Can be used depending on location and shape of the TAA or TAAA.
  • Once in place, blood flows through the stent-graft instead of into the aneurysm, eliminating the chance of rupture.

Our thoracic aortic disease treatment experience

Cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offer treatment for descending TAAs and TAAAs.

At our Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease, patients have immediate access to state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment strategies, including:

  • Sophisticated 3D, volume-rendered, computed tomographic and magnetic resonance angiography to help produce optimal anatomic reconstruction strategies for the thoracic and thoracoabdominal aorta.
  • Comprehensive neurocerebral and spinal cord protection protocols to optimize neurologic outcomes.
  • Minimally invasive endovascular thoracic aortic repair with stent grafts for aneurysmal diseases, dissection processes, and traumatic injuries.
  • Reconstruction of the aortic root with aortic valve-preserving strategies, including complex aortic valve repair techniques designed and championed by the center's own surgeons.

To refer a patient, contact the UPMC Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease.

Learn More About Thoracic Aortic Disease Treatments

From the Society for Vascular Surgery

From our Health Library at