ABDOMINAL AORTIC ANEURYSMS
Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) can be one of the deadliest diseases if not detected and treated early. An aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement of an artery. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, extending from the heart down to the level of the belly button.
Most AAAs are found incidentally on ultrasound or CAT scans done for other reasons. It is for that reason that many experts recommend screening older patients and others who are at high risk. Although there are many factors associated with aneurysms there is no known actual cause. In some patient’s AAA may be inherited. In fact, brothers, sisters and older children of patients with AAA’s should be screened for an AAA. AAAs involve the portion of the aorta between the rib cage and the belly button. Most aneurysms get larger over time, and if they are allowed to get large enough, many of these AAAs will rupture. Once an aneurysm has ruptured, approximately 85% of individuals will die as a result. Unfortunately, AAAs tend not to cause symptoms until they rupture, making early detection difficult but necessary.
Aneurysms below a certain size may be watched closely but over a certain size, strong consideration should be made for possible treatment. Treatment may include an operation in which the abnormal artery is replaced, or a less invasive operation in which the aneurysm is “excluded” from the inside using a stent graft. Treatment is selected for each individual patient based on several factors.
When an aneurysm is detected, patients should see a vascular surgeon to determine what, if any, treatment is necessary, or to begin a surveillance protocol to ensure that the aneurysm is monitored appropriately.