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Ask Dr. Nandi: What you need to know about aortic aneurysms

Posted at 6:05 PM, Dec 14, 2022

(WXYZ) — The cause of death for sports reporter Grant Wahl has been revealed. According to his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, Grant died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

A statement from Dr. Gounder said that the autopsy found that Grant Wahl died from a “slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.”

First of all, my sincere condolences to Grant Wahl’s family. The world lost not only a great sports writer but someone who was dedicated to social justice and supported LGBTQ rights.

As for his cause of death, the aorta is the largest artery in the body. It looks like a curved candy cane. And what it does is it carries blood and oxygen from the heart through the chest and to different parts of the body.

Now, an aneurysm can occur in the aorta when there’s a weakness in the wall. What happens is the constant pressure of blood pumping through can cause a balloon-like bulge to develop in the weak area. And the force of the blood can also cause the aneurysm to rupture or split. When they rupture, the aneurysm bursts completely. And it causes life-threatening internal bleeding.

As for the medical term ‘hemopericardium', this refers to blood in the sac that surrounds the heart.

Aneurysms often do not cause symptoms. That is until they become large or burst, like what unfortunately happened to Grant. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • shortness of breath
  • pain in your neck, back, or chest
  • painful or difficult swallowing
  • coughing
  • a weak, scratchy voice or hoarseness

If an aneurysm ruptures, symptoms will come on fast. They include:

  • sudden and severe pain in the chest, back, or abdomen
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • a fast or rapid heart rate

The best chance of survival is getting medical care immediately. Surgery can effectively treat a ruptured aortic aneurysm if it happens quickly.

As for preventing an aortic aneurysm, please know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking increases a person’s risk. And according to the CDC, in 2019, roughly 59% of deaths due to aortic aneurysms or aortic dissection happened among men.

If you think you’re at high risk of developing an aortic aneurysm or are concerned about symptoms you're having, please talk to your doctor. There are imaging tests that can find and help diagnose an aortic aneurysm.

Again, my condolences to Grant Wahl’s family. This was a huge shock, and hopefully, this tragedy will bring awareness to aortic aneurysms and help save lives in the future.