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What is an aortic aneurysm? The reason behind journalist Grant Wahl’s death

After his shock death at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and some needless speculation, the autopsy has provided the answers sought.

El emotivo homenaje de la selección de Estados Unidos a Grant Wahl

Behind the sporting news taking the headlines in Qatar at the 2022 World Cup, we were collectively shocked when news broke last week of the sudden death of Grant Wahl, the well-liked and respected US journalist. Wild speculation followed on social media, including suggestions that it may have been foul play from the local regime, but a autopsy in New York has now provided clarity on the matter.

Announced by his family on Wednesday, and reported by the New York Times, Wahl died from a catastrophic rupture in the ascending aorta blood vessel that leads from the heart carrying oxygenated blood. This, commonly referred to as an aneurysm, is due to a weakness in the artery wall, which can burst open.

Mr. Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, spoke after the autopsy’s consclusions.

“I really do feel some relief in knowing what it was,” the leading infectious disease physician said, adding that more than likely the 49-year old died instantly and there would have been no pain.

What is an aortic aneurysm?

According to the CDC an aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso.

Aortic aneurysms can dissect or rupture:

  • The force of blood pumping can split the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to leak in between them. This process is called a dissection.
  • The aneurysm can burst completely, causing bleeding inside the body. This is called a rupture.
  • Dissections and ruptures are the cause of most deaths from aortic aneurysms.

Across the United States in 2019, aortic aneurysms or aortic dissections were the cause of 9,904 deaths, with around 59% of those happening among men. A history of smoking accounts for about 75% of all abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Advice provided by the US Preventive Services Task Force states that men between 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should get an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms, even if they have no symptoms.


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