The circulatory system provides our bodies with oxygen by pumping blood through a network of veins and arteries. In the center of this system is the aorta, a candy cane shaped blood vessel that runs from the top left ventricle of the heart all the way down to your pelvis. Smaller blood vessels then branch off the aorta to organs, muscles and nerves.
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, and when the walls of the aorta become weak an aneurysm can occur. An abdominal aortic aneurysm happens when part of the aorta in your midsection swells or bulges. While not always cause for concern, a rupture or tear in the aneurysm can be life threatening.
The vast majority of patients who have AAAs have no symptoms until they rupture. That is why AAA is know as the silent killer. It’s imperative that patients who have risk factors, such as smoking as little as 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, family history of AAA, or history of coronary artery disease get screened with a simple ultrasound.
Treatment today for AAA can be done by Endovascular technique, without incisions, and requires just an overnight stay in the hospital.
How Do I Know if I Have AAA?
An abdominal aortic aneurysm, or triple A, does not cause symptoms in most cases and can go unnoticed. However, if the aneurysm becomes too large, patients may begin feeling persistent pain in their backs or a pulsing pain in the stomach. Because abdominal aortic aneurysms do not typically show up on physical exams, they are usually caught during radiologic testing, such as an ultrasound or CT scan.
White men over the age of 65 are most at risk of having an AAA, as are patients who:
- Are obese
- Have high blood pressure
- Have a history or family history of heart conditions and aneurysms
To reduce or prevent your chances of developing AAA, your doctor may screen you for an abdominal aortic aneurysm when you turn 65. They could also recommend adopting a fitness routine, healthy diet, avoid smoking, and may put you on medication to treat cholesterol or high blood pressure.
AAA Treatment and Prognosis
Depending on the size of the aneurysm, your doctor may recommend surgery. There is no medication or treatment that can shrink an aneurysm, it can only be managed with lifestyle modifications. If surgery is needed, your doctor will either sew a graft, which is a tube made of strong synthetic material, or thread a catheter with an expandable stent into the aneurysm.
Unfortunately, the outlook for a person with a ruptured aneurysm is poor. Approximately 80-90% of patients do not survive a rupture, making lifestyle modifications and early detection crucial to your health following an AAA diagnosis.
The good news is that if/when surgical procedures are needed for the repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms, they have a high success rate with more than 95% of patients making a full recovery.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?
If you have any of the previously mentioned health concerns, are an avid smoker, or are experiencing pain and discomfort in your back or stomach area, ask your doctor if you are a candidate for AAA screening.
Studies have shown that smoking is a strong factor in expanding the size of an aneurysm. Many patients with a ruptured aneurysm do not seek medical attention because they believe the symptoms and pain are related to something else.
AAA is a potentially life-threatening condition. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and scheduling regular visits with your physician can reduce your risk of developing AAA, and prevent it from growing and rupturing.
To learn more about Trinity Medical Vascular and Endovascular, or to schedule an appointment with one of our trained providers, call (716) 837-2400.