An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge in the segment of the aorta (the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the body) located in the abdomen. An aneurysm or bulge may develop when the vessel wall becomes weakened. It may continue to grow and balloon out until it ruptures. The larger an aneurysm grows, the higher the likelihood that it will rupture. Aneurysm rupture can be a life-threatening event since it can cause major internal bleeding. Thus, the goal of aneurysm repair surgery is the prevention of aortic rupture.
Causes and Risk Factors for Aneurysmal Disease
An aorta is typically considered aneurysmal when it grows to more than 50% of its normal, healthy size. The presence of aneurysms is four times more common in men than women, and occurs most frequently in people over the age of 55-60 years old.
Aneurysms are caused by a weakening of, or damage to, the wall of a blood vessel. Risks factors that have been associated with the presence of aneurysmal disease include:
Three out of four aneurysms show no symptoms. Those patients who do have symptoms may feel a pulsation in their abdomen or an occasional mild abdominal ache, back pain or groin pain. Most people have few complaints related to the presence of an aneurysm.
However, rapid growth or rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may cause intense back or abdominal pain, and signs of hemodynamic shock such as; shaking, dizziness, fainting, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and sudden weakness. When this happens, seek immediate medical attention.
Aneurysms are most often found during a routine physical exam or when a doctor examines your heart, gallbladder or kidneys. An abdominal aortic aneurysm can be felt as a pulsating mass within the abdominal area. Once discovered, the aneurysm's size is determined, as the risk of aneurysm rupture has been shown to correlate with size.
If the aneurysm continues to grow, it needs to be carefully watched with more frequent intervals and may require surgery. Aneurysms larger than 5 cm may be indicated for surgical repair, depending on the condition of the patient and other clinical factors.
Aneurysms can be diagnosed with medical tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI or angiography. The tests help determine the size, shape and location of the aneurysm.
For further information, please click here to go to the Treatment Options page.