What is abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal aortic aneurysm: Overview

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a stretched and bulging area of the aorta. The aorta is the large blood vessel that takes oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This type of aneurysm is in the belly, where the aorta takes blood to the lower body. If an aneurysm gets too big, it can cause serious problems. A bulging aorta is weak and can burst, or rupture. This causes life-threatening bleeding.

If your doctor has determined that your aneurysm is small and not growing fast, it is safe to watch the aneurysm carefully and wait on surgery. If the aneurysm is larger, surgery may be the safest choice. In some cases, your doctor may be able to put in a type of graft, called a stent, to fix the aneurysm without doing major surgery.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Most people don't have symptoms. The most common symptom is belly pain, which may come and go or be constant. Other symptoms include chest or back pain and a pulsating feeling in the belly. If an aneurysm bursts, it causes sudden, severe pain. Without immediate treatment, it can quickly lead to death.

How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm treated?

To help manage an abdominal aortic aneurysm, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes that are good for your heart and blood vessels. These changes include quitting smoking, being active, eating heart-healthy foods, and staying at a healthy weight.

Repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, with surgery or a procedure, is based on the risk that the aneurysm will burst (rupture).

  • Small aneurysms rarely rupture. So in most cases, the risks of having surgery outweigh the benefits.
  • Aneurysms that are large, cause symptoms, or grow quickly are more likely to rupture. Doctors often recommend having surgery to repair these.

Treatment for a small aneurysm

Small aneurysms usually aren't repaired. You will have regular ultrasound tests. They're done to check the size of the aneurysm and how fast it is growing. Your doctor will tell you how often you need to be checked. Many people get tested every 6 to 12 months.

Treatment for a large or fast-growing aneurysm

Your doctor will most likely suggest surgery if your aneurysm is large, growing quickly, or causing symptoms. A surgeon will repair the damaged part of the aorta. It can be done using open surgery. Or it can be done using a less invasive procedure. This procedure is called endovascular repair. Your doctor can help you decide which surgery is right for you.

How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are often found by chance during tests done for other reasons. In some cases, they are found during a screening test for aneurysms. Sometimes an abdominal aneurysm is felt during a routine physical exam.

If your doctor thinks you might have this type of aneurysm, you will have a physical exam. You may also have imaging tests. Tests that may be done include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound.
  • CT scan.

These tests can help your doctor find where the aneurysm is and how big it is. The doctor can use this information to suggest the best way to treat the aneurysm.

How can you care for yourself when you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

A heart-healthy lifestyle may benefit your blood vessels. Eat heart-healthy foods. Limit alcohol, sugar, and sodium. Be active. Stay at a weight that's healthy for you. Try to get enough sleep. If you smoke, try to quit. Manage other conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Take your medicines as prescribed.

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta in the belly. The section with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, so it can burst. If the aorta bursts, it can cause serious bleeding that can quickly lead to death.

What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Some things can weaken the wall of the aorta. Examples include smoking and atherosclerosis. These problems, along with the natural wear and tear of aging, can lead to an abdominal aneurysm.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe pain in your belly, back, or chest.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • One or both feet change color, are painful, feel cool, or burn or tingle.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.