- An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) refers to a swelling and weak spot in the aorta, the body’s biggest blood vessel.
- Over time, AAAs can get bigger and burst, causing severe pain and fatal internal bleeding.
- Due to the absence of symptoms, AAAs are usually only detected during routine medical exams.
What is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?
The aorta is the body’s largest blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest onto the abdomen where it divides to supply blood to the legs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a blood-filled bulge or swelling, weak spot occurring in the aorta. If not detected earlier, AAAs can enlarge over time and could burst from the force of normal blood pressure. This can lead to severe pain and massive internal hemorrhage.
Treatment, which ranges from close monitoring to emergency surgery, depends on several factors including location and size of the aneurysm and how fast it’s growing.
While a ruptured AAA can be fatal, there are ways that can be done to prevent one from happening. Learn and understand the symptoms, risk factors and preventive measures to help you get prepared and take steps if needed.
Most AAAs do not usually cause any noticeable symptoms. Often, the aneurysms grow slowly and go unnoticed making them difficult to spot. Some never reach the point of rupture while others grow bigger quickly. These aneurysms are often only identified during screening or tests undertaken for another reason.
When an abdominal aneurysm enlarges, you might notice a deep, constant pain in your middle or lower part of your abdomen, back pain, or a pulse near your belly button.
If you experience sudden and severe pain, see a doctor immediately.
While aneurysms occur anywhere along the aorta, most develop in the part of the aorta that’s in your abdomen. Factors believed to contribute to the development of an aortic aneurysm, include:
- Clogged arteries (atherosclerosis). This is due to a buildup of fat and other substances on the lining of a blood vessel.
- High blood pressure (hypertension) which can damage and cause the aortic walls to deteriorate.
- Blood vessel diseases that cause inflammation of blood vessels.
- Infection in the aorta, including bacterial or fungal infections, which rarely occurs but might cause aortic aneurysms.
- Trauma such as car accidents.
Risk factors linked to AAA
Smoking or a history of smoking. Tobacco use is the strongest risk factor because it can weaken the aortic walls, leading to greater risks of not only developing an aortic aneurysm, but of rupture.
Age. These aneurysms occur most often in individuals over 65 years and older.
Being male. Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur much more often in men than in women.
Being white. People who are white have higher chances of developing abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Family history. A family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms boosts your risk of having the condition.
Other aneurysms. Having an aneurysm in another large blood vessel, like the artery behind the knee or the aorta in the chest, might heighten your risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Signs that your aortic aneurysm has ruptured include: abrupt, intense, and persistent abdominal or back pain described as a tearing sensation; low blood pressure and rapid pulse.
Aortic aneurysms can also put you at risk of forming blood clots in the area. If a blood clot bursts out from the inner walls of an aneurysm and interrupts a blood vessel elsewhere in your body, it can cause pain or hinder blood flowing to the legs, toes, kidneys or abdominal organs.
To prevent an aneurysm from worsening, do the following:
- Quit smoking or chewing tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet which includes various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products. Avoid saturated fat, trans fats and limit salt.
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol and take prescribed medications as instructed.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity. Talk to your doctor about what activities are right for you.
If you’re at risk of an aortic aneurysm, other measures may be recommended like medications to lower your blood pressure and reduce stress on weakened arteries.
Source: Mayo Clinic