Peripheral and Visceral Artery Aneurysms

An aneurysm is defined as a persistent, abnormal dilatation of an artery above 1.5 times its normal diameter. The abdominal aorta is the most commonly affected vessel, but peripheral artery aneurysms and visceral artery aneurysms can also occur.

This article will focus on the more common types of peripheral and visceral aneurysms, including their presentation, investigations needed, and potential management.


Risk Factors and Clinical Features

The aetiology of peripheral and visceral aneurysm is largely unknown. Possible causes include trauma, infection, connective tissue disease (e.g. Marfan’s disease), or inflammatory disease (e.g. Takayasu’s aortitis).

Risk factors for such aneurysms include smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, and family history.

Broadly speaking, the presentation of these aneurysms will be either:

  • Asymptomatic (found incidentally)
  • Symptomatic, but not ruptured
  • Symptomatic secondary to a rupture (stable or unstable)

Investigations and Management

Peripheral and visceral aneurysms are usually best investigated with CT angiography, the gold standard imaging. MR angiography is a good alternative, mainly due to the reduced risk of kidney damage. US duplex scans can be useful for detection and follow up, but will not help with planning of treatment.

Management will usually involve either watchful waiting or surgical intervention (endovascular or open), depending on the location and size, as well as associated symptoms.

Fig. 1 - The stenting of an artery during endovascular repair.

Fig. 1 – The stenting of an artery during endovascular repair


Peripheral Artery Aneurysms

The most common peripheral artery aneurysms occur in the popliteal artery and femoral artery.

Popliteal Artery

Popliteal aneurysms are the most common site for peripheral aneurysms, accounting for 70-80%. They have a high risk of embolisation and so active management is advised.

Presentation

Popliteal aneurysms will usually present symptomatically as either acute limb ischaemia (from aneurysm thrombosis or distal emboli) or less commonly with intermittent claudication. Alternatively, they may be found incidentally, such as in patients being worked up for AAA repair or awaiting knee replacement. The rupture of popliteal artery aneurysms is rare.

On clinical examination, classically a pulsatile mass will be felt in the popliteal fossa. Popliteal artery aneurysms are often found bilaterally and are associated with abdominal aortic aneurysms (20%).

Fig. 2 - The anatomy of the popliteal artery

Figure 2 – The anatomy of the popliteal artery

Investigation

The initial investigation for a suspected popliteal aneurysm that is an ultrasound duplex scan, as this will allow the differentiation between other causes of a popliteal fossa swelling, such as a Bakers cyst or lymphadenopathy, whilst also looking for signs of aneurysm thrombosis.

Further imaging will often be via CT Angiogram or MR Angiogram. These imaging modalities allow good anatomical assessment of the aneurysm (useful for operative planning) and in the assessment of distal arteries to assess their patency.

Management

Due to risk of embolic events, symptomatic popliteal aneurysms should be treated regardless of their size; if a thrombus is seen on imaging, this should warrant treatment at an early stage. If asymptomatic, but greater than 2cm, popliteal aneurysms should be treated. Otherwise they should be routinely monitored with US scans.

Surgical Intervention

Both open and endovascular options are available for treatment of popliteal aneurysms.

  • Endovascular repair involves stent insertion across the aneurysm and requires a normal calibre artery above and below the aneurysm for the stent to seal in. This procedure does incur risks of continued aneurysm sac filling through collateral vessels and in-stent thrombosis can occur. It is done under local anaesthetic and is often the preferred choice in unfit patients.
  • Surgical repair involves ligation of the aneurysm or resection of the aneurysm with a bypass graft (either a vein from the patient (preferred) or a graft). This can be in the form of an above to below knee popliteal bypass, or through a posterior approach to the knee, opening the aneurysm sac then inserting a tube graft from top to bottom.

Femoral Artery

There are two major causes for the development of a femoral artery aneurysm:

  • Percutaneous vascular interventions
  • Intravenous drug users who inject into the groin

Presentation

Symptoms and signs from a femoral artery aneurysm are from either thrombosis, rupture, or embolisation of the aneurysm. In IVDU cases, concurrent infection may also be present.

As a consequence, patients will present with varying degrees of claudication or acute limb ischaemia, but often with no symptoms other than a swelling in the groin.

Investigation and Management

These aneurysms should be investigated initially with US duplex scan, before requiring CT Angiography or MR Angiography for further anatomical imaging and operative planning.

The mainstay of treatment for femoral is open surgical repair (endovascular repair is rarely performed for such a pathology).


Visceral Artery Aneurysms

The visceral arteries most commonly affected by aneurysm formation are the splenic artery, hepatic artery, and renal artery.

Splenic Artery

Splenic artery aneurysms are the most common type of visceral aneurysm, comprising around 60% of the total.

The main risk factors for their development are female sex, multiple pregnancies, portal hypertension, and pancreatitis or pancreatic pseudocyst formation.

Presentation

Those that are symptomatic will present with a vague epigastric or LUQ pain. Those that rupture will present with severe abdominal pain and haemodynamic compromise.

Investigation and Management

The mainstay of investigation for splenic artery aneurysms is by CT Angiography or MR Angiography.

First line management option is endovascular repair; this is best done with embolisation or stent grafts, once the patient is haemodynamically stable (an open repair may be advised in the unstable patient).

Fig 3 - The vascular supply to the spleen.

Fig 3 – The vascular supply to the spleen.

Hepatic Artery

Hepatic artery aneurysms are the second most common of the visceral aneurysms, accounting for around 20% of cases.

Percutaneous instrumentation is associated in 50% of cases, yet the remainder of cases may be from trauma, degenerative disease, or post-liver transplant (false aneurysms forming around vessel anastomoses).

Presentation

Most cases are usually asymptomatic, yet stable symptomatic cases can often present with vague RUQ or epigastric pain; jaundice can occur if there is any biliary obstruction.

Investigation and Management

Much like splenic aneurysms, the mainstay of investigation for hepatic artery aneurysms is by CT Angiography or MR Angiography.

First line management is endovascular repair; this is best done with embolization or stent grafts, once the patient is haemodynamically stable, in those with suitable anatomy (an open repair may be advised in the unstable patient or with unsuitable anatomy).

Renal Artery

A renal artery aneurysm is often found incidentally and is asymptomatic. However, in symptomatic cases, patients may present with haematuria, resistant hypertension, or loin pain (including those with renal infarction).

Investigation and Management

Renal artery aneurysms should also be investigated by CT Angiography or MR Angiography.

Mainstay of treatment is via endovascular repair. A stent can be inserted easily if the aneurysm is affecting the main renal artery, otherwise if it is affecting the hilum, endovascular repair with coils and self-expanding stents may be used.

Key Points

  • The aetiology of most peripheral and visceral aneurysms is largely unknown
  • The most common clinical presentation is being found incidentally on routine imaging
  • Peripheral and visceral aneurysms are usually best investigated with CT angiography
  • Management is chosen predominantly on a case-by-case basis, however the surgical treatments offered are often a choice between endovascular repair or open repair

Quiz

Question 1 / 4
What is the correct definition for an anuerysm?

Quiz

Question 2 / 4
Popliteal aneurysms account for what proportion of peripheral aneurysms?

Quiz

Question 3 / 4
What is a main concern for IVDU patients admitted with a femoral aneurysm and raised inflammatory markers?

Quiz

Question 4 / 4
Which of the following is not a known risk factor for splenic artery aneurysm?

Results

Further Reading

Peripheral arterial aneurysms: open or endovascular surgery?
Mohan IV et al., Prog Cardiovasc Dis.

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