Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
The abdominal aorta runs down the center of the abdomen and is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the blood vessel which is caused by a weakness in the wall of the vessel. The analogy of a bubble in a garden hose would be appropriate in describing an aneurysm. As the bubble becomes larger, it becomes weaker and is more at risk for rupture. If you have an aneurysm, you will generally not have any symptoms. Because AAA do not produce clear symptoms, there is a high rate of sudden rupture with a significantly high death rate. Aortic aneurysms tend to be more common in people who are 65 or older. Each year 15,000 Americans die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. When detected in time, an aneurysm can usually be repaired with surgery.
Risk factors for aneurysms
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Advancing age
- Congenital defects, such as an inherited weakness in the blood vessel wall; for example Marfan syndrome
Screening for aneurysm
Men who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, and men and women with a family history of aneurysm as well as those with significant risk factors should be screened.
A painless, noninvasive ultrasound is the easiest way to detect an AAA. The size of an aneurysm, if detected, can be measure by ultrasound. Sometimes your doctor may feel the bulge of an aneurysm of examination, however, many AAAs are too small to feel.