Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

What is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

The abdominal aortic artery is a large artery that extends from the breast bone to the navel (umbilicus) where it splits into the iliac arteries that supply blood to your lower extremities (legs). The aorta has many branches that supply blood to the major organs of the abdomen. 

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge in the artery wall. This is a serious condition that can have grave consequences. Most AAA's are located below the arteries that go to the kidneys (renal arteries). At least 66 percent of AAA's extend to one or both of the iliac arteries. 

The normal size for an aorta is less than 3cm. When the aorta is enlarged to 3cm or larger, an aneurysm is suspected. Aneurysms less than 5cm wide usually do not rupture. Anything 6cm or higher, is more likely to rupture.  The only way to monitor the aneurysm is by regular careful screening.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms are the 13th most common cause of death in America.

Only 32 % of patients survive emergency surgery for a ruptured AAA!

Symptoms & Warnings

  • There are usually NO warnings or symptoms prior to a rupture!  (This is why screening is so important!)
  • Loss of appetite  
  • Weight loss
  • Pulsating mass in the abdomen
  • Lower back pain (sometimes very severe). You do NOT want to wait until this symptom occurs. Rupture could be imminent!

Risk factors for AAA

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Adults over the age of 50
  • Previous heart attack
  • Family history of atherosclerosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Who is most affected by AAA?

  • Adults of both sexes
  • Men are five times more likely to be affected by AAA than women.
  • Contrary to common thought, AAA's are NOT rare.  About 5 % of men over the age of 60 will develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

How do I know if I have an Aortic Aneurysm?

An ultrasound screening is a fast and highly accurate method to detect and measure an aneurysm. Early detection is the best way to avoid a devastating rupture. You DO NOT want to wait until your aneurysm ruptures. Half of all people with an aneurysm will die within 5 years if not treated.

A ruptured AAA causes immense bleeding which leads to shock and then death. Early screening can discover aneurysms when they are small. By carefully monitoring an aneurysm, your doctor can determine what course of action is best.  

Treatment for AAA

If an AAA is discovered, and surgery is indicated, surgeons will replace the diseased vessel with a synthetic graft (Dacron). More recently, new minimally invasive procedures use methods similar to angioplasty to guide stents into place. These procedures are much easier to tolerate than the traditional open abdominal surgery.

What else do we screen for?  Learn more.