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About Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

While an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be fatal if it ruptures, the good news is that there’s an effective treatment to prevent that from happening. By understanding the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options, you can be prepared to take action quickly if needed.

Definition

aortic aneurysm

The aorta is the body's major blood vessel (see diagram).  It runs from your heart, through your chest, and to your abdomen where it divides to supply blood to your legs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a blood-filled bulge or ballooning in a part of your aorta that runs through your abdomen.

Over time, this bulge in your aorta can become weak, and the force of normal blood pressure can cause it to rupture. This can lead to severe pain and massive internal bleeding, or haemorrhage.

1. aorta
2. heart
3. aortic aneurysm
4. aorta leading away from the heart
5. kidney


Causes

It is not known what exactly causes an abdominal aneurysm in some people. The ballooning may be caused by a weakness in the wall of the aorta where it has become inflamed. Some doctors believe that this inflammation may be due to clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), but it may also be related to genetics, injury, or other diseases.


Symptoms

Most people with an abdominal aortic aneurysm do not have any symptoms. Often, the aneurysms grow slowly and go unnoticed. Many never reach the point of bursting; others enlarge quickly.

When an abdominal aneurysm expands, you or your doctor may notice a throbbing in the middle or lower part of your stomach, lower back pain, or tenderness in your chest. Most abdominal aneurysms are identified during routine medical exams.

Symptoms of an unruptured AAA may include:

  • a pulsating feeling in your stomach (abdomen), usually near your belly button, that's usually only noticeable when you touch it
  • persistent back pain
  • persistent abdominal pain

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should see your GP as soon as possible.

Ruptured AAA

If your aortic aneurysm ruptures, you will feel a sudden and severe pain in the middle or side of your abdomen. In men, the pain can also radiate down into the scrotum.

Other symptoms include:

  • dizziness
  • sweaty and clammy skin
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling faint
  • loss of consciousness

Medical emergency

A ruptured aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency, and it’s important to get to hospital as soon as possible.

Around 80% of people with a rupture die before they reach hospital or don’t survive emergency surgery.

This is why the NHS AAA Screening Programme was introduced, so dangerously large aneurysms can be treated before they burst.

If you suspect that you or someone in your care has had a ruptured aneurysm, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.


Risk Factors

While the exact causes of abdominal aortic aneurysms are not clear, there are some risk factors associated with abdominal aortic aneurysms:

  • Individuals over 50 years of age
  • Men over the age of 65 years old
  • Smoking or a history of smoking
  • Clogged arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Family history (genetic factors)
  • High cholesterol (hypercholesteremia)

Diagnosis

In the UK there is a National Screening Programme. Men over the age of 65 years are far more likely to have a AAA than women or younger men – so any man registered with a GP will receive a letter inviting him for screening in the year he turns 65.

Men over the age of 65 can request a scan by contacting their local AAA screening service directly.

Please visit this link for information on AAA including diagnosis and screening

Outside of the screening programme if your doctor sees signs of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he or she may arrange for special tests to confirm the diagnosis. Usually, these will involve imaging of your abdomen using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerised tomography (CT), and ultrasound imaging.

The images produced by these methods help your doctor “see” inside your aorta as well as other blood vessels and organs in your body to see if an aortic aneurysm is present.


Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.