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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm, also known as AAA, occurs when a weakened area in the wall of the abdominal aorta bulges or expands. The aorta is the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. The most common location of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is located below the kidney arteries, called an intrarenal AAA. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding. An aneurysm can be characterized by its location, shape, and cause.

Symptoms

Most AAAs do not cause any symptoms and so many people who have an AAA are not aware of it.

If an AAA ruptures then patients may develop:

  • Sudden and severe pain in abdomen or lower back
  • Loss of consciousness

If an aneurysm bursts, feelings of severe weakness, dizziness, and pain will happen. Seek medical attention immediately.

Causes

An AAA may be caused by multiple factors, but the exact cause is unknown. Inflammation probably plays an important role and many AAAs are hereditary. Factors that may play an important role in abdominal aortic aneurysms include atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the inner lining of an artery), vasculitis (infection in the aorta), genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner’s syndrome and polycystic kidney disease, and congenital syndromes that were present at the patient’s birth.

Who’s at risk?

Patients at higher risk for aortic aneurysms include those who are over age 60, current or past smokers, have high blood pressure or have an immediate family member that has had an aortic aneurysm.

Diagnosis

If the provider believes the patient has an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he or she will run a test to confirm the diagnosis. This test could be an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment

  • Monitoring. Using an ultrasound procedure, the physician may monitor an aneurysm smaller than 4 cm every 6-12 months for signs of changes in size.
  • Lifestyle changes. This may include quitting smoking, lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol, lowering blood glucose levels and becoming physically active.
  • Medication to control risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Aneurysm Repair. If the aneurysm is causing symptoms or is larger than 5 cm, the patient’s physician may recommend repair by minimally invasive or surgical procedures.