It is estimated that 200,000 people in the United States have an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which is a bulge or ballooning in the lower part of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. The aorta carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The area of the aorta in the abdomen against the spine is sometimes prone to weaken and become thinner, enlarging like an overinflated balloon—and a ruptured AAA can be life-threatening.
Many people who have AAA are unaware because they show no symptoms and can be difficult to detect. That’s why it’s important to know your risk factors, how to detect AAA and your treatment options.
Men over the age of 60 with a history of smoking, heart disease and/or high blood pressure are at greatest risk. Women with a history of aneurysm in their family or sudden unexplained death in the family should talk to their doctor undergoing screening tests and getting a referral to a vascular surgeon if an AAA is found.
The key to managing AAA is early detection using ultrasound to screen and measure the size of an aneurysm if found. If you have a small aneurysm, your doctor may want to just follow it with more ultrasounds or CT scans to make sure it isn’t growing. Lifestyle changes such as following a low-sodium diet, exercising, controlling blood pressure and stopping smoking can help. If the aneurysm reaches a critical size such as the size of a small or medium-sized orange, for example, a repair will be recommended.
There are both minimally invasive and surgical options depending on the size and complexity of the aneurysm. An advance in the treatment of AAA is endovascular aneurysm repair, which is a less-invasive procedure, where a catheter is inserted through an artery in the groin and a tiny device is placed into the aorta to reinforce the artery wall. Patients will stay in the hospital for 1-3 days. Open abdominal surgery may be recommended for more complex cases, and a synthetic graft is sewn into place. Patients will stay in the hospital for up to 10 days, and full recovery may take up to three months.