Overview

A popliteal artery aneurysm is an irregular bulge that occurs in the wall of the artery located behind the knee joint. It is a type of lower extremity aneurysm.

Symptoms

You might not notice any symptoms. The first symptom may be pain in the lower leg that occurs with walking, called claudication. Other symptoms of a popliteal artery aneurysm include:

  • Knee pain.
  • Lower leg pain.
  • Swelling behind the knee.
  • Pulsing feeling behind the knee.

Causes

An aneurysm is a ballooning in a weak spot in an artery wall. Many different things can cause the popliteal artery wall to become weak, including:

  • Atherosclerosis.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Wear and tear of the popliteal artery due to repeat use of the knee joint.

Risk factors

Popliteal artery aneurysms are rare. They are more common in men than in women.

Popliteal artery aneurysm often occurs in men with abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a swelling of the wall of the body's main artery, called the aorta. Anyone diagnosed with popliteal artery aneurysm should be screened for AAA.

Other risk factors for popliteal artery aneurysm include:

  • Growing older.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Smoking.
  • Narrowing of a heart valve.
  • Having three or more aneurysms anywhere in the body.

Complications

Complications of popliteal artery aneurysm include blood clots. Blood clots can cause a severe lack of blood flow in the lower leg.

A severe lack of blood flow can cause the following symptoms:

  • A change in skin color in the affected area.
  • No pulse behind the knee.
  • Skin in the affected area feels cold.
  • Numbness in the leg.
  • Inability to move the foot.

A severe lack of blood flow may result in loss of the limb. Rarely, the aneurysm may rupture. But the risk of popliteal artery aneurysm rupture is low.

Prevention

Smoking and high blood pressure increase the risk of blood vessel problems that can lead to popliteal artery and other aneurysms. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease and blood vessel damage.

Try these heart-healthy tips:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Get regular exercise.

Popliteal artery aneurysm care at Mayo Clinic

Sept. 26, 2023

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  1. Sidawy AN, et al., eds. Lower extremity aneurysms. In: Rutherford's Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy. 10th ed. Elsevier; 2023. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 25, 2023.
  2. Cameron AM, et al. Femoral and popliteal artery aneurysm. In: Current Surgical Therapy. 14th ed. Elsevier; 2023. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 25, 2023.
  3. Braswell-Pickering EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. June 5, 2023.
  4. Peripheral arterial aneurysms. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/peripheral-arterial-disorders/peripheral-arterial-aneurysms. Accessed May 25, 2023.
  5. Reed AB. Popliteal artery aneurysm. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 25, 2023.
  6. van Laarhoven CJHCM, et al. Systematic review of the co-prevalence of arterial aneurysms within the vasculature. European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. 2021; doi:10.1016/j.ejvs.2020.10.002.
  7. Naazie I, et al. Open repair versus endovascular repair in the treatment of symptomatic popliteal artery aneurysms. 2022; doi:10.1016/j.avsg.2022.06.096.

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