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Vascular Care

Aortic Aneurysm

The aorta is your largest blood vessel, delivering oxygenated blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

The wall of your aorta can develop a bulge, or weakened area, that can be at risk for rupture or separation. Over time, the bulge can grow larger and become weaker.

A burst aorta results in life-threatening internal bleeding and death if not treated quickly.

Aortic aneurysms most often occur in the section of the aorta that runs through your abdomen, so they are called abdominal aortic aneurysms, or AAAs. However, thoracic aortic aneurysms can occur in the section of the aorta that runs through your chest.

What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm to form?

The exact cause of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, also called AAA or triple A, isn’t easy to pinpoint. Vascular specialists believe that atherosclerosis, or a buildup of plaque in your arteries, plays a role, along with:

  • Age
  • Being male (AAAs happen four to five times more often among men)
  • Genetics/family history (especially close relatives)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking/using tobacco products

AAA might also result from conditions such as connective tissue disorders, congenital defects, arterial inflammation, trauma and bacterial/viral infections.

What are the symptoms of AAA?

Unfortunately, most abdominal aortic aneurysms don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. That’s why triple A is often called the “silent killer.”

Some people with abdominal aortic aneurysms describe feeling a pulsing sensation, not unlike a heartbeat, in their abdomen.

Pain, described as dull or severe, is the most common symptom of AAA. This pain often occurs in the abdomen, chest, lower back or groin area. When the pain is sudden and severe, this can mean that an aneurysm is about to rupture. If this happens, call 911.

man clutching chest
diagnostic image of aaa

How are AAAs diagnosed?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are most often discovered during a free screening offered by a healthcare provider or by a scan such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI that your physician ordered for another reason.

If you have a family history of AAA, talk with your primary care provider about ordering a diagnostic test or referring you to a vascular specialist.

How are abdominal aortic aneurysms treated?

Depending on the size and location of your aneurysm, a vascular specialist may recommend monitoring it to ensure that it doesn’t get larger, managing your risk factors by losing weight or quitting tobacco, taking medications to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol, or performing minimally-invasive surgery to repair it.

Aneurysm detection and treatment

According to Heather Park, MD, a vascular surgeon with Tanner Vascular Surgery, anyone over 65 who has ever smoked should be screened for aneurysm with a simple ultrasound that a primary care doctor can order. This screening can detect AAA and determine if treatment is necessary.

AAA treatment depends on the size and placement of the aneurysm. When an aneurysm needs to be repaired, minimally invasive surgery means that most people are able to go home the next day.

hands holding cell phone

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