Our aorta is our lifeline. As the main artery carrying blood from the heart, it channels around five litres of the life-giving fluid every minute. Imagine how devastating it would be if it burst. This is exactly what can happen to aneurysms – balloon-like swellings in arteries and occasionally veins. If they grow too large they can split, causing internal bleeding which is often fatal. Fortunately, genetic research is helping to identify mutations linked to aneurysms. And surgical techniques to repair the damage are advancing. People with Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a condition caused by a cell growth factor mutation, are particularly prone to aortic aneurysms (seen here using computer reconstructed images). If caught in time, the weakened artery walls can be bypassed using artificial blood vessels (the ridged tube visible in the left image) or surgically repaired (the large swelling seen lower left, is absent in the right image).
Written by Sarah McLusky
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