The aorta is the largest artery in your body, running from your heart through the middle of your chest and abdominal area. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weakened area of the aorta in the abdomen that bulges or expands.
The greatest concern with an abdominal aneurysm is that it may rupture. The larger the aneurysm is, the greater the risk of it rupturing. Aneurysms that rupture can cause severe internal bleeding, which can be fatal. Fortunately, this condition can be successfully treated and cured when diagnosed prior to rupture. Caring for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is one of many offerings for vascular care at Ohio State.
While the exact cause is unclear, an abdominal aortic aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that damage the aortic wall. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to play an important role. Infection, injury to the aorta and genetic disorders, including Marfan syndrome, are also factors that increase the risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Other risk factors that contribute to abdominal aortic aneurysm include:
- Family history
- Being male
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Older age (over 45 for women, over 55 for men)
Many of these risk factors can be reduced or eliminated by changing your lifestyle. Men older than 60 who have ever smoked should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm with a simple ultrasound test.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms
Most people do not initially experience symptoms with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. However, the following symptoms can indicate that an aneurysm is present:
- Mass in the abdomen
- Pulsating in your abdomen (similar to a heartbeat)
- Sores, discoloration or pain on your feet (due to material shed from an aneurysm)
- Stiff or rigid abdomen
- Sudden, intense pain in your abdomen or lower back (may signify an aneurysm that is about to rupture; seek immediate medical care)
A ruptured aneurysm is very dangerous and requires emergency medical care. Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Drop in blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
When an abdominal aortic aneurysm is detected, it is usually incidental during an examination for another condition. Tests to confirm the presence of an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:
- Abdominal ultrasound – A painless, noninvasive diagnostic test used to detect an abdominal aortic aneurysm
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – A noninvasive, sophisticated imaging procedure that uses large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures inside the body
- CT scan (computed tomography scan) – An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the body, including bones, muscles, fat and organs
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Treatment
Treatment of an abdominal aortic aneurysm depends on its size and the symptoms an individual may be experiencing. The goal is to prevent the aneurysm from ever rupturing. Medication to control high blood pressure and to lower cholesterol may be prescribed. Surgery may also be indicated.
There are generally two types of aneurysm repair surgeries:
- Endovascular repair makes use of a catheter that guides a stent graft through small incisions in the groin. The graft is inserted into the aneurysm and seals the aneurysm from within.
- Open surgical repair of the abdominal aortic aneurysm may be recommended if the aneurysm anatomy does not allow for endovascular repair. In this procedure, the damaged area is removed and replaced with a graft.
A ruptured aneurysm is a very dangerous condition. Although it is possible to repair a ruptured aneurysm surgically, it is important to identify and treat aneurysms before a rupture occurs.