When a weak area of an artery becomes enlarged, the enlarged portion results in an aneurysm. As the symptom progresses, it begins to resemble a balloon. When this occurs in the abdominal section of the aorta (the primary blood vessel carrying blood away from the heart), it is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm, or AAA.
The main risk with AAA is that they can rupture or burst at any time, leading to heavy internal bleeding that is fatal if not treated quickly. In fact, approximately half of the patients who get to the hospital after a ruptured AAA do not survive. Another risk from aneurysms is an increased risk of blood clots releasing from the affected area. The larger the size of the AAA, the greater the risk.
While a large number of patients do not experience or feel any of the symptoms of an AAA, some do experience one or more of the following:
- A pulsating sensation in the abdomen, similar to rhythm of a heartbeat
- Deep pain in the abdomen or lower back
- If a rupture is imminent, a severe, sudden abdominal or back pain may indicate this
Risk Factors for AAA
While there is no definitive cause of AAA, many medical researchers believe that some of the same risk factors that cause hardening of the arteries (smoking, high blood pressure, etc.) may also make the aorta more vulnerable to this condition.
Researchers have also identified several high-risk groups:
- A family history of aneurysms
- High blood pressure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Vascular diseases
- Genetic factors
- Connective tissue disease*
- Fungal/bacterial infections*
*In rarer cases
Patients with aneurysms smaller than two inches across, and who are not experiencing any symptoms, should undergo an ultrasound or CT scan every six months. Often, these patients will also receive medicine to lower their blood pressure.
For aneurysms larger than two inches, repair is done either via a surgical (open) aneurysm repair, or by a less-invasive endovascular stent graft repair, which inserted via a small incision in the groin