An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a weakened area of the aorta below the kidneys. With this weakening, blood pressure causes the expansion of blood vessels to unsafe levels and the expansion continues until the blood vessels eventually rupture. The expansion occurs in a localized area, not throughout the length of the blood vessel.
The signs and symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may not be evident, and the course of disease varies among individuals. Some people with an abdominal aortic aneurysm have no symptoms at all. Others may have a pulsating feeling near the navel or may experience abdominal, chest or back pain.
The complications of an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be life threatening. The complications include blood clots, hypovolemic shock, internal bleeding, stroke, rupture of the aneurysm, and organ failure. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have blush lips and fingernails, cold skin, confusion, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, or abdominal/pelvic pain that is severe, sudden, persistent, or constant.
There is no exact cause for abdominal aortic aneurysm, but there are a number of risk factors that have been shown to be common with people suffering from AAA. These risk factors are older age, being Caucasian, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being of the male gender, smoking, and atherosclerosis.
The risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm occurring is decreased with regular exercise, maintaining blood pressure, a healthy diet (especially focusing on low fat and cholesterol), and ceasing smoking.
Diagnosis is mostly achieved by physical exam, ultrasound, or CT scan. A clinical practice guideline by the US Preventive Services Task Force “recommends one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm by ultrasonography in men age 65 to 75 years who have ever smoked.” (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2005). "Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm: recommendation statement". Ann. Intern. Med. 142 (3): 198–202. PMID 15684208. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/142/3/198.)
Options for treatment are influenced by the location of the aneurysm, the size of the aneurysm, whether the aneurysm has leaked or not, and other health concerns of the patient. Some of the common treatments include blood pressure management, control of risk factors, regular observation, or surgical repair of the aneurysm.
With the rupturing of an aneurysm being so dangerous, it is important to detect an abdominal aortic aneurysm early. Be sure to make an appointment with your physician soon if you are at risk.