What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?
An aneurysm is an abnormal expanding of a weakened blood vessel wall. There are different types of aneurysms, but the most common type is abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). These usually occur below the chest in the aorta (the large main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body), but can also form in the chest.
What are the symptoms?
Smaller AAAs usually cause no symptoms. AAAs that grow quickly or are about to rupture (break open) may cause these symptoms:
- A constant, deep pain in your abdomen, side or back
- A pulsating feeling near your bellybutton
A ruptured AAA will cause sudden, severe pain and may cause you to go into shock or pass out. Although any ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency, only about 1 in 5 people survive a ruptured AAA.
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysm include:
- Family history of aneurysms. You're 12 times more likely to develop an AAA if you have a first-degree relative who's had one.
- Smoking. People who smoke or have a history of smoking are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop an AAA. This is especially true for men. Men who have ever smoked are at the greatest risk of developing an AAA.
- Gender and age. Men and people over the age of 65 are more likely to develop an AAA.
- Disease. Your risk of developing an AAA increases if you've been diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. A history of coronary artery disease puts you at significant risk for developing an AAA. Some inherited diseases like Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can also increase your risk.
How can I reduce my risk?
You can reduce your risk for AAA by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. If you smoke, stop now. And be sure to take your medicines as directed if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Talk to your doctor about screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm if you have a family history of the condition or if any of the risk factors for AAA apply to you. If you are at high risk, you should be screened with both an abdominal ultrasound and a chest x-ray.
At least 95 percent of AAAs are successfully treated when they're found before they rupture.
Learn about the Aortic Aneurysm Surveillance Program at The Christ Hospital.