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What to know about an aortic aneurysm, Grant Wahl's cause of death

Dr. Celine Gounder on late husband Grant Wahl
Dr. Celine Gounder on late husband Grant Wahl's legacy 06:59

Grant Wahl's wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, revealed to CBS News on Wednesday that the renowned soccer journalist died at the World Cup in Qatar on Friday due to an aortic aneurysm that ruptured.

"It's just one of these things that had been likely brewing for years, and for whatever reason it happened at this point in time," Gounder told "CBS Mornings" co-host Gayle King in her first interview since her husband's death at the age of 49.

Gounder said in a note the aortic aneurysm grew slowly and went undetected, and that "no amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him."

An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, which is the body's largest artery — "sort of the trunk of all the blood vessels," said Gounder, who is an infectious disease specialist and CBS News medical contributor. An aortic aneurysm can "dissect" or — as in Wahl's case — rupture.

A rupture is when an aneurysm completely bursts, causing life-threatening internal bleeding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains. A dissection is when blood that is being pumped splits the layers of the artery wall, resulting in blood leakage.

"Though aortic aneurysms do not directly cause death, complications arising from an aneurysm — such as dissection or rupture — cause approximately 15,000 deaths annually" in the U.S., says the Aortic Center at Columbia University. It notes they are "more common in men over the age of 60."  

Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the aorta, but most occur in the area of the belly, where they often grow slowly and are hard to detect, the Mayo Clinic says

"Some aneurysms never rupture," the Mayo Clinic says. "Many start small and stay small. Others grow larger over time, sometimes quickly."

Lifestyle and family history can play a role in risk for an aortic aneurysm, which are seen most often in men, people over 65, smokers, and people with high blood pressure, as well as those who have a family history of them, according to the Cleveland Clinic

"Smoking is the most important behavior related to aortic aneurysm," the CDC says.

People are often unaware they have one, since there are typically no symptoms until it ruptures. Once it does, someone may experience a rapid pulse, lightheadedness or dizziness, and severe and sudden back or abdominal pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

When symptoms are present before a rupture, they can include shortness of breath, feeling full after even small meals, pain at the aneurysm site, swelling of the neck, face or arms, as well as pain while swallowing.

According to the CDC, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms in men who are between the ages of 65 and 75 and have smoked.  

The Mayo Clinic advises people to exercise, eat healthy, not smoke, and keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control to help prevent an aortic aneurysm or to keep an existing one from worsening.

"Finding an aortic aneurysm before it ruptures offers your best chance of recovery," the Cleveland Clinic says

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