An aneurysm in the lower part of the aorta can grow slowly and silently. Know the symptoms of this dangerous condition and the treatment.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlarged area in the lower part of the body's main artery, called the aorta. The aorta runs from the heart through the center of the chest and belly area, called the abdomen.
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm that ruptures can cause life-threatening bleeding.
Treatment depends on the size of the aneurysm and how fast it's growing. Treatment varies from regular health checkups and imaging tests to emergency surgery.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when a lower part of the body's main artery, called the aorta, becomes weakened and bulges.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms often grow slowly without noticeable symptoms. This makes them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms never rupture. Many start small and stay small. Others grow larger over time, sometimes quickly.
If you have a growing abdominal aortic aneurysm, you might notice:
If you have pain, especially if pain is sudden and severe, seek medical help right away.
Aneurysms can develop anywhere along the aorta. Most aortic aneurysms occur in the part of the aorta that's in the belly area, called the abdomen. Several things can lead to the development of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, including:
Abdominal aortic aneurysm risk factors include:
If you're at risk of an aortic aneurysm, medicines may be given to lower your blood pressure and relieve stress on weakened arteries.
Complications of abdominal aortic aneurysms include:
A rupture can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. In general, the larger the aneurysm and the faster it grows, the greater the risk of rupture.
Symptoms that an aortic aneurysm has ruptured can include:
Aortic aneurysms also increase the risk of developing blood clots in the area. If a blood clot breaks loose from the inside wall of an aneurysm, it can block a blood vessel elsewhere in the body. Symptoms of a blocked blood vessel may include pain or reduced blood flow to the legs, toes, kidneys or belly area.
To prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm or to keep one from worsening, do the following:
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are often found when a physical exam or imaging test is done for another reason.
To diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the health care provider examines you and reviews your medical and family history.
Tests to diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:
During some CT and MRI scans, a liquid called contrast may be given through a vein to make the blood vessels show up more clearly on the images.
Being male and smoking significantly increase the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm. Screening recommendations vary, but in general:
Women who have never smoked generally don't need to be screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm. There isn't enough evidence to say whether women ages 65 to 75 with a history of smoking or a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm benefit from screening. Ask your health care provider if screening is right for you.
The goal of abdominal aortic aneurysm treatment is to prevent an aneurysm from rupturing. Treatment may involve:
Which treatment you have depends on the size of the abdominal aortic aneurysm and how fast it's growing.
If the abdominal aortic aneurysm is small and isn't causing symptoms, you may only need frequent health checkups and imaging tests to see if the aneurysm is growing.
Typically, a person with a small, symptom-free abdominal aortic aneurysm needs an ultrasound at least six months after diagnosis. Abdominal ultrasounds also should be done at regular follow-up appointments.
During the regular checkups, a health care provider also checks for conditions, such as high blood pressure, that could make an aneurysm worse.
Surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm is generally recommended if the aneurysm is 1.9 to 2.2 inches (4.8 to 5.6 centimeters) or larger, or if it's growing quickly.
Repair surgery also may be recommended if you have symptoms such as stomach pain or have a leaking, tender or painful aneurysm.
The type of surgery done depends on:
Abdominal aortic aneurysm treatment options may include:
Endovascular repair. This treatment is most often used to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm. A surgeon inserts a thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, through an artery in the groin area and guides it to the aorta. A metal mesh tube on the end of the catheter is placed at the site of the aneurysm. The mesh tube, called a graft, expands, and strengthens the weakened area of the aorta. This helps prevent rupture of the aneurysm.
Endovascular surgery isn't an option for everyone with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. You and your health care team should discuss the best repair option for you. Regular imaging tests are done after this treatment to make sure the blood vessel isn't leaking.
Long-term survival rates are similar for both endovascular surgery and open surgery.
Your health care provider may tell you to avoid heavy lifting and vigorous physical activity. These activities may cause extreme increases in blood pressure, which can worsen an aneurysm.
Emotional stress also can raise blood pressure. Try to avoid conflict and stressful situations. If you're feeling stressed or anxious, let your care provider know. Together you can come up with the best treatment plan.
Make an appointment with your health care provider if you are concerned about your risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If you're having severe pain, seek emergency medical help.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as avoid food or drinks for a period of time.
Make a list of:
For an abdominal aortic aneurysm, questions to ask your health care provider include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, including: