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Published on April 24, 2018

AAA screenings prevent surgical emergencies and deaths

Jon Zlabek, MD, Gundersen Vascular Institute

Jon Zlabek, MD, Gundersen Vascular Institute

If you have a male patient 65 to 75 years old who has smoked 100 cigarettes or more in his lifetime, a simple screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) could save his life.

"An aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel becomes at least 50 percent larger than the adjacent portion of a normal artery and balloons outward. So often they go undiagnosed because they develop slowly over many years and patients rarely experience symptoms," explains Jon Zlabek, MD, Vascular Medicine.

"Aneurysms can rupture, thrombose, embolize thrombosed material, compress adjacent structures or dissect, generally without warning," he adds. "That's why prevention is so important."

Men are five times more likely than women to develop abdominal aortic aneurysms, as are smokers. In addition, the older the patient is the greater the risk for developing an AAA, especially if a first-degree relative (father or brother for example) had one.

Gundersen offers a quick, noninvasive screening. The screening is covered by Medicare for qualifying individuals. Patients at risk for AAA but not covered by Medicare can still have the potentially life-saving screening for $100.

"Evidence shows that a screening ultrasound for at-risk patients effectively detects abnormalities in the abdominal aorta early on," Dr. Zlabek says. "If results are positive, we will work with you and your patients to monitor the aneurysm and discuss treatment options. However, many aneurysms can be carefully followed for years without surgery."

Who are candidates for AAA screening?

  • Men between 65 to 75 years old who have ever smoked
  • Anyone Medicare age who has a first-degree relative with AAA

Unless patients are screened, or an AAA is discovered during a scan or X-ray for an unrelated procedure, most patients will not know they have it. Dr. Zlabek hopes that clinicians will encourage their patients at risk for AAA to proactively take advantage of screening options.

For more information about AAA or to refer a patient for a screening or treatment, contact Gundersen's Vascular Institute via MedLink at (800) 336-5465 (in La Crosse 775-5465).

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