What to know about aortic aneurysms — the condition that killed sports journalist Grant Wahl

Doctors blame an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm for the sudden death of sports journalist Grant Wahl, after he collapsed covering a match last week at the World Cup in Qatar.

His death was sudden and the condition undiagnosed.

“Unfortunately, aortic aneurysm is asymptomatic,” said Dr. Ramesh Mazhari, an interventional cardiologist and professor at George Washington University. “Most people don’t know that they have it until one of these catastrophic complications occur.”

The condition is a weakening of the wall of the aorta, which is the body’s largest vessel. As a result, a dangerous ballooning and bulging of the aorta occurs.

“Over time, it will either rupture or burst, which will then cause major internal bleeding,” said. Dr. Mazhari. “Or the wall of the aorta can split. In that case, it can compromise blood flow to the major organs.”

While many potential victims are unaware of the condition, there are risk factors for developing it.

The condition is more common in men than women. People with a family history have a greater chance of developing aneurysms. And patients with high blood pressure and smoking are also at risk, she said.

Early detection through a screening is key as surviving a rupture is rare.

“The guidelines suggest that every man over the age of 65, who has ever smoked, should get an ultrasound to look for aneurysms in the abdominal areas,” Dr. Mazhari said. “And if there’s a family history, the screening should occur 10 years earlier, at the age of 55.”

For many patients who find them, it’s a matter of luck.

“Unfortunately a lot of times, these are just incidental findings, you go get a scan for something else and they tell you that you have an aneurysm,” she said. “You’re lucky if that happens to you.”

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