Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The aorta is the large artery that transports blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This artery is divided into sections: thoracic and abdominal. The abdominal aorta lies on the spinal column, travels through the stomach area, and branches into two arteries (the iliac arteries) at the level of the umbilicus (belly button).

Aneurysms occur in the abdominal aorta when the wall of the aorta weakens and swells like a balloon. Like a balloon, the aortic wall may burst, causing severe internal bleeding that is often fatal. Every year there are 15,000 preventable deaths related to AAA.

Risks

What puts you at risk for an AAA?

  • Tobacco use
  • Family history
  • Age over 65 (May occur in much younger patients)
  • Male
  • Emphysema
  • High cholesterol level
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation of the aortic wall from an unknown cause

Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of an AAA?

  • Often there are no symptoms until the aorta ruptures (bursts)
  • Abdominal bruit (noise heard over the abdomen that your doctor can hear with a stethoscope)
  • Unusual pain in the low back, sides or stomach

Diagnosis

How is an AAA diagnosed?

  • History and physical exam
  • People over age 50 with family history should be screened for this condition, and if this is negative re-screened every five years
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Computed Tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Treatment

How is an AAA treated?

Treatment depends on the location of the aneurysm, size of the aneurysm and overall health of the person but may include:

  • Risk factor reduction and observation for small aneurysms
  • Surgical repair
  • Stent graft (Endograft)