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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
Aortic aneurysms often develop without any symptoms. That was the case with O.D., a retired school administrator living in California.
In 2002, O.D. developed a case of pneumonia, a potentially serious condition caused by infection. The symptoms can be difficult to detect, but often include chest pain, abdominal pain, and heart palpitations.
When pneumonia is suspected, doctors typically check the lungs for signs of inflammation and perform chest x-rays to determine the location of infection.
It was during such an examination, that doctors discovered a problem with O.D.'s heart. Two of his heart valves had deteriorated, and they were in danger of breaking loose. But that wasn't all. As O.D. was preparing for open heart surgery, his doctor discovered that he also had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that needed to be repaired.
The dilemma was, what operation to do first: replace the valves or repair the aneurysm?
While both procedures were necessary, it was decided that the valve replacement was the most critical. So, in 2003, O.D. had open heart surgery. A year later, after he had fully recovered, Dr. David Dawson repaired his abdominal aortic aneurysm using a stent graft.
Generally, open surgery is considered more invasive than endovascular aneurysm repair. Most patients who undergo the procedure can expect to spend several days in intensive care and a week or more in the hospital.
Endovascular stent grafting is less invasive. Typically, patients are able to leave the hospital 2 to 4 days after the procedure.
Most likely this is why O.D. clearly remembers his recovery from the open heart surgery but doesn't recall the details of recovery from the stent graft procedure, other than a small wound in his inner thigh where the delivery catheter was inserted, which quickly healed.
Today, O.D. doesn't notice the stent graft – it doesn't interfere at all with his normal activity. He feels good and exercises regularly at the rehabilitation center where he "works up a pretty good sweat." When asked about it, though, he is quick to point out the importance of abdominal aortic aneurysm screening.
"I think everyone should be screened," says O.D. "With an aneurysm like mine, there are no symptoms. I was lucky that my doctor discovered it. But there's no reason to take that chance, especially now that abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is more widely available through Medicare. And if you do have an aneurysm, it can be safely treated with early diagnosis."
Medicare provides a one-time abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for those at risk as part of the Welcome to Medicare Physical to new Medicare beneficiaries.
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.