Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is swelling in a portion of the aorta—the largest blood vessel in the body. The aorta runs from the heart to the chest and diaphragm to the lower abdomen. The aorta slowly and progressively dilates and may balloon to four or five times its normal size. The aortic wall thins out and becomes weakened as it dilates. This can cause the aneurysm which can clot, cause a small tear in the lining of the artery or break open and cause profuse bleeding. If an AAA ruptures, only immediate emergency surgery to replace or repair the ruptured aorta will save the patient.
The most common cause of an AAA is hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Other causes include:
• High blood pressure
• Cigarette smoking
• Tears in the artery wall
• Infections of the vessel wall
In most cases, an AAA will produce no symptoms, especially if the aneurysm is small. As the aneurysm grows, the patient may experience mild abdominal discomfort, back pain, or groin pain. As the aneurysm begins to rupture, the patient will experience sudden, very severe abdominal or back pain. Immediate medical attention is necessary for survival.
If an AAA is detected, surgery may be an option and is generally successful. For smaller AAAs, some surgeons recommend periodic follow-up with ultrasound scans. However, an AAA that is growing rapidly is a warning sign that needs to be addressed immediately.