Sports Journalist Grant Wahl Died of an Aortic Aneurysm. What Is It?

A screen with Grant Wahl's photo

Richard Sellers / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Sports journalist Grant Wahl died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at the 2022 World Cup.
  • People with aortic aneurysms may experience symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, or no symptoms at all.
  • Aortic aneurysms can be deadly if they rupture, causing severe internal bleeding.

Sports journalist Grant Wahl suddenly died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm while covering the 2022 World Cup last week. He was 49.

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta, the largest artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. A growing aneurysm can burst and cause internal bleeding, or “dissect” and allow blood to leak between the layers of the artery wall.

Wahl’s wife Céline Gounder wrote in a note that an autopsy suggested that the aneurysm had been growing undetected. In the days leading up to his death, Wahl experienced chest tightness, which may have resulted from his aneurysm.

Wahl had a case of bronchitis before the World Cup, too. He said on a podcast that he felt like his body “rebelled” on him after three weeks of little sleep and high stress.

It’s unclear whether his illness had led to the ruptured aortic aneurysm, but people who have an aortic aneurysm may experience ambiguous or no symptoms at all. Some symptoms can include chest pain, hoarseness, and shortness of breath.

“Because of its vague symptoms, it might be thought of as indigestion or a gastric issue, or mistaken for a heart attack,” Aeshita Dwivedi, MD, a cardiologist at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital, told Verywell.

Dwivedi said while patients may not always be aware of an aneurysm, it can be detected during a routine chest X-ray or ultrasound.

“Whether it’s a heart-related issue or gastric indigestion-related issue, a lot of times we use the same imaging,” she said. “A CAT scan is a very common test that we do for anybody who comes in with belly discomfort or chest discomfort—the same testing can be used to diagnose multiple things.”

Is Aortic Aneurysm Preventable?

People with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and hardened arteries, or those with a family history of heart conditions may be at higher risk of developing an aortic aneurysm. Smokers, men, and people over 65 are also more prone to aortic aneurysms.

Quitting smoking, reducing stress, and exercising regularly may reduce the chance of developing aortic aneurysms.

Blood pressure medications may be able to stop an already-developed aneurysm from growing larger in size, but they won’t remove an aneurysm from the body. Patients who have a large aneurysm might need to undergo surgery.

But surgery might not be required as long as the patients have regular follow-ups with a physician and adhere to individualized medical advice, Dwivedi said.

“Whether it’s high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, or an aortic aneurysm, these conditions are all silent until they’re drastic in their manifestation,” Dwivedi said. “Having regular follow-ups is key to preventing adverse outcomes.”

What This Means For You

People who experience chest pain or who have a family history of aortic aneurysms can talk to their doctor about getting imaging like an ultrasound, CAT scan, or MRI to check for the condition.

1 Source
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aortic aneurysm.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.