Disease: Aneurysm, abdominal aortic

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlarged area in the lower part of the aorta, the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. The aorta, about the thickness of a garden hose, runs from your heart through the center of your chest and abdomen. Because the aorta is the body's main supplier of blood, a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding.

Depending on the size and rate at which your abdominal aortic aneurysm is growing, treatment may vary from watchful waiting to emergency surgery. Once an abdominal aortic aneurysm is found, doctors will closely monitor it so that surgery can be planned if it's necessary. Emergency surgery for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can be risky.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Abdominal aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and usually without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms will never rupture. Many start small and stay small, although many expand over time. Others expand quickly. Predicting how fast an abdominal aortic aneurysm may enlarge is difficult.

As an abdominal aortic aneurysm enlarges, some people may notice:

  • A pulsating feeling near the navel
  • Deep, constant pain in your abdomen or on the side of your abdomen
  • Back pain

When to see a doctor

You should see your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.

Anyone age 60 and older who has risk factors for developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, such as smoking or a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm, should consider regular screening for the condition. Because being male and smoking significantly increase the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm, men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked cigarettes should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm using abdominal ultrasound.

If you have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound exam to screen for the condition.

There are no specific screening recommendations for women. Ask your doctor if you need to have an ultrasound screening based on your risk factors.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Most aortic aneurysms occur in the part of your aorta that's in your abdomen. Although the exact cause of abdominal aortic aneurysms is unknown, a number of factors may play a role, including:

  • Tobacco use. Cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use appear to increase your risk of aortic aneurysms. In addition to the damaging effects that smoking causes directly to the arteries, smoking contributes to the buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure. Smoking can also cause your aneurysm to grow faster by further damaging your aorta.
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and other substances build up on the lining of a blood vessel, increasing your risk of an aneurysm.
  • Infection in the aorta (vasculitis). In rare cases, abdominal aortic aneurysm may be caused by an infection or inflammation that weakens a section of the aortic wall.

Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the aorta, but when they occur in the upper part of the aorta, they are called thoracic aortic aneurysms. More commonly, aneurysms form in the lower part of your aorta and are called abdominal aortic aneurysms. These aneurysms may also be referred to as AAA or triple A.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are often found during an examination for another reason. For example, during a routine exam, your doctor may feel a pulsating bulge in your abdomen, though it's unlikely your doctor will be able to hear signs of an aneurysm through a stethoscope. Aortic aneurysms are often found during routine medical tests, such as a chest X-ray or ultrasound of the heart or abdomen, sometimes ordered for a different reason.

If your doctor suspects that you have an aortic aneurysm, specialized tests can confirm it. These tests might include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This exam can help diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm. During this painless exam, you lie on your back on an examination table and a small amount of warm gel is applied to your abdomen. The gel helps eliminate the formation of air pockets between your body and the instrument the technician uses to see your aorta, called a transducer. The technician presses the transducer against your skin over your abdomen, moving from one area to another. The transducer sends images to a computer screen that the technician monitors to check for a potential aneurysm.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. This painless test can provide your doctor with clear images of your aorta. During a CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine called a gantry. Detectors inside the gantry measure the radiation that has passed through your body and converts it into electrical signals. A computer gathers these signals and assigns them a color ranging from black to white, depending on signal intensity. The computer then assembles the images and displays them on a computer monitor.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is another painless imaging test. Most MRI machines contain a large magnet shaped like a doughnut or tunnel. You lie on a movable table that slides into the tunnel. The magnetic field aligns atomic particles in some of your cells. When radio waves are broadcast toward these aligned particles, they produce signals that vary according to the type of tissue they are. Your doctor can use the images produced by the signals to see if you have an aneurysm.

Regular screening for people at risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm using abdominal ultrasound. People older than age 60 with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm or other risk factors should talk with their doctors about whether to have a screening ultrasound.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Tears in the wall of the aorta (dissection) are the main complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm. A ruptured aortic aneurysm can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding. In general, the larger the aneurysm, the greater the risk of rupture.

Signs and symptoms that your aortic aneurysm has burst include:

  • Sudden, intense and persistent abdominal or back pain
  • Pain that radiates to your back or legs
  • Sweatiness
  • Clamminess
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shortness of breath

Another complication of aortic aneurysms is the risk of blood clots. Small blood clots can develop in the area of the aortic aneurysm. If a blood clot breaks loose from the inside wall of an aneurysm and blocks a blood vessel elsewhere in your body, it can cause pain or block the blood flow to the legs, toes, kidneys or abdominal organs.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

The best approach to prevent an aortic aneurysm is to keep your blood vessels as healthy as possible. That means taking these steps:

  • Quit smoking or chewing tobacco.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Reduce cholesterol and fat in your diet.

If you have some risk factors for aortic aneurysm, talk to your doctor. If you are at risk, your doctor may recommend additional measures, including medications to lower your blood pressure and relieve stress on weakened arteries.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Abdominal aortic aneurysm risk factors include:

  • Age. Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur most often in people age 65 and older.
  • Tobacco use. Tobacco use is a strong risk factor for the development of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The longer you've smoked or chewed tobacco, the greater your risk.
  • Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, the buildup of fat and other substances that can damage the lining of a blood vessel, increases your risk of an aneurysm.
  • Being male. Men develop abdominal aortic aneurysms much more often than women do.
  • Family history. People who have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm are at increased risk of having the condition. People who have a family history of aneurysms tend to develop aneurysms at a younger age and are at higher risk of rupture.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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