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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Symptoms ‘The Silent Killer’

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?

The abdominal aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It delivers blood to your lower body and legs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm develops where there is a weak spot in the artery wall. Blood flowing through the artery puts pressure on this weak spot and over time the aneurysm can grow, and bulge out. The larger it gets the more likely it will break open or tear the wall of the blood vessel. When the vessel ruptures only about 1 in 5 people survive the rupture.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is often called a silent killer because in most cases there are no or few obvious symptoms. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms develop slowly and never rupture. Men are about six times more likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm than women. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms affect men over the age of 65.

What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

We don’t know.

Who is at risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Smokers are seven times more likely to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm, than people who never smoked. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is are independent risk factor for abdominal aortic aneurysm. High blood pressure increases the pressure on the artery wall. A family history increases the risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

What are the Symptoms?

75% of aneurysms have no symptoms when diagnosed. If there are symptoms they include:

  • abdominal pain that is either constant or comes and goes
  • persistent back pain that can radiate to the buttocks, groin or legs
  • a pulsing feeling in the abdomen that is only noticeable when you touch it

People with these symptoms and risk factors should contact their physician or a vascular surgeon at South Valley Vascular for screening. Symptoms generally indicate an enlarging of the aneurysm, and an increased risk of rupture, and suggest the need for repair.  A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm causes sudden, severe abdominal pain, a significant drop in blood pressure, and possibly signs of shock. Other symptoms include dizziness, sweaty, clammy skin, a rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, fainting, and loss of consciousness. Once it ruptures, 80-90% of ruptures result in death, before a patient can reach the hospital.

When to call a doctor?

A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency. Call 911. Call a vascular surgeon or cardiologist immediately if you have a pulsing sensation in the abdomen, sudden weakness in the lower legs on one side, chest pain, and a cold foot.

Who should get screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Men over age 65 who have ever smoked. Men over age 65 who have never smoked but who have risk factors. Screening is

Diagnosis

Often abdominal aortic aneurysm is discovered incidental to an imaging test for another reason. Your surgeon may ask about symptoms and your medical history, and want to know about your family history, and even whether you have recently had a chest injury. He will conduct a physical exam, check your blood flow, and feel your abdomen.

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm is suspected, an abdominal ultrasound will allow your surgeon to view the aneurysm, estimate its size, and pinpoint its location. Other imaging tests may be needed to determine the location of the aneurysm and to monitor the growth of the abdominal aortic aneurysm.

If discovered, it can be repaired with surgery. 50% people diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm who do not receive treatment will die of a rupture.

Treatment

Nonsurgical Treatment

When an abdominal aortic aneurysm is discovered, the surgeon will determine the risk for rupture. IF the risk is low, the patient will require regular monitoring to evaluate the size and risk of rupture. If the aneurysm is less than 2 inches, and is not growing rapidly, there is generally a low risk of rupture, and can be watched.

Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of an aneurism grown larger and rupturing. Nonsurgical treatments include quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and losing weight can reduce the risk of an enlarging aneurysm.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be recommended when there is a risk of rupture, the aneurysm is increasing quickly in size, the patient has a first degree relative with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, and other risks.

Repair is done to prevent rupture, relieve symptoms, and when the risk of rupture outweighs the risks from surgery. Minimally invasive endovascular surgery, similar to a cardiac bypass, redirects blood flow to stop pressure on the weak blood vessel. Endovascular aortic repair is associated with decreased length of hospital stay and fewer GI and wound complications, and reduced mortality.

Current studies report that screening, and endovascular aortic repair reduces the risk of rupture, and survival.

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm is not found until there is an emergency, or there is a high risk of rupture, emergency surgery is required.

The vascular surgeons at South Valley Vascular in the Southern Joaquin Valley urge men over age 60 with risk factors to get screened, even if they have no symptoms, because most abdominal aortic aneurysms are silent and can be deadly.

Screening is a painless, noninvasive ultrasound procedure that allows the for evaluation of the aorta. When you need high quality, 5-star care call South Valley Vascular.

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