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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs becomes at least 50 percent larger than the adjacent portion of normal artery and balloons outward. Often they go undiagnosed because they develop slowly over many years and patients rarely experience symptoms.

An aneurysm can be life-threatening. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to tear open (rupture), have blood leak along the wall of the vessel (dissection) or compress adjacent structures. Your doctor may find this problem by doing a physical exam, CT scan or ultrasound of your abdomen.

Treatment for AAA

If your aneurysm is small and there are no symptoms, your doctor may recommend checking the size of the aneurysm with ultrasound tests every 6-12 months to see if the aneurysm is getting bigger.

Surgery is usually recommended if your aneurysm is bigger than 2 inches across and/or the aneurysm is growing quickly. The goal is to perform surgery before complications develop. There are two approaches:

  • In a traditional (open) repair, a large cut is made in your abdomen. The abnormal vessel is replaced with a graft.
  • The other approach is endovascular stent grafting. This procedure can be done without making a large cut in your abdomen. This usually results in a faster recovery. If you have other medical problems, this may be a safer approach.

The outcome is usually good if an experienced surgeon repairs the aneurysm before it ruptures.

AAA and PAD and screening

When an aneurysm gets too large and ruptures, it's often too late. Less than 80 percent of patients survive a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. About 30,000 people die from ruptures each year. That's why prevention is so important.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm can happen in anyone, but the risk is higher in men over age 55 who have one or more risk factors such as a history of smoking or family history of AAA. So if you're over age 55 and have one or more risk factors, talk with your doctor about being screened. Medicare covers a one-time screening for qualifying individuals. We also offer the quick, painless test for $100 if you do not qualify for it under Medicare.

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