An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an enlargement or bulge that develops in a weakened area within the largest artery in the abdomen, the aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, and it runs from the heart down through the chest and into the abdomen.
If the aorta walls weaken or bulge, this is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
If it remains undetected, the aneurysm eventually becomes so large, and its walls so weak, that rupture occurs. When this happens, there is massive internal bleeding which can lead to death. If the aortic aneurysm does not burst, it could push blood flow away from organs and tissues, which can lead to kidney damage, stroke, and even death.
What are the symptoms of AAA?
Some patients do not have any symptoms at all. Others experience the following.
- A pulsing feeling in the abdomen
- Unexplained, severe pain in the abdomen or lower back
- Pain, discoloration, or sores on the feet
- Chest or back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal stiffness
What are the causes of AAA?
The exact causes of abdominal aortic aneurysm are unknown. However, weaker aorta walls increase the chance of developing AAA. Other causes include
- Atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries.
- Bacterial or fungal infections in the aorta.
- High blood pressure damages or weakens the aorta’s walls.
- Certain blood vessel diseases that cause the aorta to become inflamed.
Who is at risk for AAA?
There are a variety of risk factors for AAA, including
- Tobacco use: This is the highest risk factor as smoking weakens the aortic walls. Smoking not only increases the risk of developing an aortic aneurysm, but it also increases the risk of rupture.
- Age: Those older than 65 years have a greater risk of AAA.
- Family history: Those with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms are at greater risk.
- Past aneurysms: Patients that have had an aneurysm in another large blood vessel have a great risk.
- Gender: Males develop AAA more frequently than women.
How to diagnose AAA
Doctors can sometimes diagnose AAA in a routine medical exam. Other exams include X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, echocardiogram, MRI, or an angiography. Depending on the patient’s history and risk factors, the physician will opt for one or more of the exams. Doctors typically recommend AAA screenings for males over the age of 65 who are or were smokers.
Treatment of AAA
AAA can be safely treated or cured within the early diagnosis. Treatment method also depends on the size. Small aneurysms may not require treatment, and the doctor may opt to monitor it and conduct routine testing.
For large or growing aneurysms, doctors may suggest surgery, either open abdominal surgery or endovascular repair.
Can AAA be avoided?
Some abdominal aortic aneurysm risk factors cannot be avoided. However, for patients at risk, doctors recommend the following.
- Stop all tobacco use. For those in New York state, call 1-866-NY-QUITS. This is a free service that helps NY state residents quit smoking.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Manage high blood pressure.