Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Why It Is Known as the "Silent Killer"

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
July 19, 2021

An abdominal aortic aneurysm affects many people every year. It goes undetected because of its size. If it never ruptures, you may live your whole life without knowing it is there. Here are some facts about the silent killer of the medical world.

What Is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and legs. When blood flows through the body, it does so under pressure. Weakness in the walls of the aorta causes the vessel walls to balloon out. This is called an aneurysm. Most aneurysms are small and cause no issues, so it may be hard for a patient to know if they have one.

There are several risk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysms. Smoking is a major one.  Men are four times as likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm as women. People with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms also have an increased risk. Other health conditions that put you at risk include atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.

Although doctors have been able to identify risk factors, there is currently no known cause of this disease. Many people never even know they have an aortic aneurysm.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a silent killer because symptoms are rare. Aneurysms develop gradually over many years. Symptoms may appear suddenly when the aneurysm begins to grow larger, tear open, or leak blood into the wall of the aorta.

Although most people don’t experience signs of this health issue, some that may arise include:

● Pain in the abdomen

● A pulsing sensation in the abdomen

● A stiff or rigid abdomen

This could indicate the aneurysm is growing and needs examining. If this worsens, you may be experiencing a rupture. Symptoms can include:

● Abdominal or back pain that is severe, sudden, and persistent. The pain can spread to the groin, buttocks, and legs.

● Pale, clammy skin

● Dizziness

● Dry mouth or excessive thirst

● Nausea and vomiting

● Low blood pressure

● Shock-shaking, fainting, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and sudden weakness

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical exam can sometimes detect an aneurysm. An ultrasound of the abdomen is commonly used when an abdominal aortic aneurysm is suspected. A CT scan of the abdomen can establish the size of the aneurysm.

When a small aneurysm is detected, your doctor will monitor it and decide whether treatment is needed. If you have a ruptured aneurysm, emergency surgery is necessary. Sadly, only about 1 in 5 people survive a rupture. This is why early detection is critical.

There are two types of surgery used for an abdominal aortic aneurysm: open repair and endovascular stent grafting. Open repair is done in an operating room under general anesthesia and may require intensive care. It consists of removing the aneurysm before it ruptures. It could take two to three months to recover from this procedure.

Endovascular stent graphing is much less invasive and is normally done in a surgical suite or a hospital. This type of surgery consists of small incisions made in the artery wall for a stent graph to enter and redirect blood to stop the pressure. A hospital stay of a couple of days is normal.

Learn More About Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

At South Valley Vascular, we pride ourselves on keeping your body in the best shape it can be. Give us a call today to set up an appointment at one of our five locations with our trained vascular surgeon. Learn if you have an aneurysm or any other kind of vascular issue at South Valley Vascular.