Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

The aorta is the major blood vessel
supplying blood from your heart to the rest of your body. It runs all the way
down into your abdomen. An abdominal aortic aneurysm describes the condition when
the aorta in the abdomen has weakened and is bulging or ballooning. If the
enlarged part of the aorta were to burst, the bleeding could be lethal.

Each year, 200,000 people in the United
States are diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. A ruptured abdominal
aortic aneurysm is the 15th leading cause of death in the country, and the 10th
leading cause of death in men older than 55.

Causes

Experts believe that atherosclerosis, which
means the hardening of the arteries, is the main cause of an abdominal aortic
aneurysm. However, why this happens is unknown to us. Some risk factors that
can put individuals at higher risk include:

  • Being a male
  • Aging over 65 years
  • Family history
  • Being white
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Tobacco use
  • Infection of the aorta
  • Injury to the aorta in the abdomen
  • Being still for long prolonged periods
  • Blood vessel disease that causes inflamed arteries, such as vasculitis

Symptoms

In most cases, abdominal aortic aneurysms
cause no symptoms unless they rupture. If an aneurysm in the abdomen does
rupture, you may experience these warning signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden pain in your abdomen or back
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • shock or passing out

Call your doctor immediately if you have
any of these symptoms, because rupture of the abdominal aortic aneurysm can be
life-threatening.

Diagnosis

Since abdominal aortic aneurysms are
usually asymptomatic, most of them are diagnosed during a routine physical
examination or on X-ray when testing for other health conditions. During the
physical exam, your doctor will examine your abdomen to find if there is a lump
(mass) or pulsating sensation in it or if your abdomen is stiff or rigid.

If your doctor suspects that you have this
disorder, he or she may order some of the following tests to help with
diagnosis:

  • Abdominal ultrasound.

This is the most commonly used test to
diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysms. It uses high-frequency sound waves to form
images of the abdomen.

  • CT scans.

A CT scan uses X-rays and computers to
produce images of a cross-section of the body.

  • MRI.

This test applies a large magnet, radio
waves, and a computer to produce clear pictures of the body.

Treatment

Treatment plans for abdominal aortic
aneurysms may be different based on the size and severity of the aneurysms. For
small aneurysms that cause no symptoms, your doctor may recommend that you
choose medical monitoring. In this
treatment option, you will need regular imaging tests to check on the size of
your aneurysm. Also, you may need some treatment to manage other medical
conditions, such as high blood pressure, that could worsen your aneurysm.

For large or fast-growing aneurysms, surgical treatment is required. Also,
your doctor might recommend surgery if you have symptoms such as stomach pain
or you have a leaking, tender or painful aneurysm. Repair options for abdominal
aortic aneurysms include:

  • Open abdominal surgery.

This surgery involves removing the damaged
section of the aorta and replacing it with a synthetic tube (graft), which is
sewn into place. Average hospital stay ranges from 5 to 8 days. The time until recovery
ranges from 6 weeks to 3 months.

  • Endovascular repair.

This less invasive procedure is used more often. Doctors attach a synthetic graft to the end of a thin tube (catheter) that’s inserted through an artery in your leg and threaded into your aorta. It can help reinforce the weakened section of the aorta to prevent rupture of the aneurysm.

Keyword: abdominal aortic aneurysm.

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