Definition

What is abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is the condition that occurs when the walls of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the human body, can swell or bulge out like a small balloon if they become weak. And when it happens in the part of the aorta that’s in your abdomen. The aorta plays a major role in carrying blood from your heart up to your head and arms and down to your abdomen, legs, and pelvis.

Especially, the abdominal aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is usually around 2cm wide, roughly the width of a garden hose. However, it can swell to over 5.5cm, what doctors class as a large AAA.

Depending on the size and the rate at which your abdominal aortic aneurysm is growing, treatment may vary from watchful waiting to emergency surgery. Once an abdominal aortic aneurysm is found, doctors will closely monitor it so that surgery can be planned if it’s necessary. Emergency surgery for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can be risky.

How common is abdominal aortic aneurysm?

About 4 in 100 men and about 1 in 100 women over the age of 65 have an AAA. It becomes more common with increasing age. However, most people with an AAA are not aware that they have one (see below in the section on symptoms). An AAA is rare in people under the age of 60. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Actually, most aneurysms have no signs and symptoms unless they rupture. If an AAA does rupture, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • sudden pain in your abdomen or back
  • pain spreading from your abdomen or back to your pelvis, legs, or buttocks
  • clammy or sweaty skin
  • increased heart rate
  • shock or loss of consciousness

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Although the exact cause of abdominal aortic aneurysms is still unknown, a number of factors may play a role in causing the condition, including:

  • Tobacco use. Cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use appear to increase your risk of aortic aneurysms. Smoking can be damaging to the aorta and weaken the aorta’s walls.
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and other substances build up on the lining of a blood vessel. This condition may increase your risk of an aneurysm.
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms as it can damage and weaken the aorta’s walls.
  • Blood vessel diseases in the aorta. Abdominal aortic aneurysms can be caused by diseases that cause blood vessels to become inflamed.
  • Infection in the aorta. Infections, such as a bacterial or fungal infection, may rarely cause abdominal aortic aneurysms.
  • Trauma, such as being in a car accident, can cause abdominal aortic aneurysms.
  • In some cases, abdominal aortic aneurysms could be hereditary.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm?

There are many risk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysm, such as:

  • Are male
  • Are obese or overweight
  • Are over age 60
  • Have a family history of heart conditions and diseases
  • Have diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure, especially if you’re between 35 and 60 years old
  • Have high cholesterol or fatty buildup in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have had trauma to your abdomen or other damage to your midsection
  • Smoke tobacco products

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is abdominal aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

Generally, AAAs that haven’t ruptured are often diagnosed when a doctor is scanning or examining your abdomen for another reason.

If your doctor suspects that you may have one, they will perform an examination and they can feel your stomach to see if it’s rigid or contains a pulsing mass. Then they will order some tests, such as:

  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • abdominal ultrasound
  • chest X-ray
  • abdominal MRI

How is abdominal aortic aneurysm treated?

Depending on the size and exact location of the aneurysm, your doctor may perform surgery to repair or remove the damaged tissue. This may be done either with open abdominal surgery or endovascular surgery. The surgery performed will depend on your overall health and the type of aneurysm.

Open abdominal surgery is used to remove damaged areas of your aorta. It’s the more invasive form of surgery and has a longer recovery time. Open abdominal surgery may be necessary if your aneurysm is very large or has already ruptured.

Endovascular surgery is a less invasive form of surgery than open abdominal surgery. It involves using a graft to repair the weakened walls of your aorta.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage abdominal aortic aneurysm?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with abdominal aortic aneurysm:

  • Don’t use tobacco products. Smoking is a risk factor for abdominal aortic aneurysms. Quit smoking or chewing tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
  • Get regular exercise.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 3, 2017 | Last Modified: August 3, 2017

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