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.
What puts you at risk for an AAA?
- Tobacco use
- Family history
- Age over 65 (May occur in much younger patients)
- 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
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)
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)