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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel becomes abnormally large or balloons outward. The abdominal aorta is a large blood vessel that supplies blood to your abdomen, the pelvis, and legs.

The aorta is the largest artery in your body, and it carries blood from your heart out to the rest of the body. Your aorta starts in your chest, where it is called the thoracic aorta. When it reaches your abdomen, it is called the abdominal aorta. The abdominal aorta supplies blood to the intestines, liver and kidneys. Just below the abdomen, the aorta splits into the iliac arteries, which carry blood to each leg.

When a weak area of the abdominal aorta grows, it is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). An abdominal aortic aneurysm can develop in anyone, but it is most frequently seen in people over 50 with one or more risk factors. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to rupture.

Normally, the aorta is about 2.5 cm in diameter. An aneurysmal aorta can grow to 5 cm or beyond. Aneurysms this large are a health risk because of the chance of rupture. This can cause massive internal bleeding and can be fatal. When diagnosed early, abdominal aortic aneurysms can be treated, or even cured, with highly effective and safe treatments.

What are the risk factors for AAA?

Aneurysms can be caused by inflammation in the aorta, which may cause its wall to break down. Some researchers believe that this inflammation can be associated with atherosclerosis (also called hardening of the arteries). Besides atherosclerosis, other factors that can increase your risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • Being a man older than 60 years
  • Having an immediate relative, such as a mother or brother, who has had abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Smoking

Your risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm increases as you age. AAA is more common in men than in women.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Many people do not feel any symptoms with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Occasionally, patients can experience:

  • A pulsing feeling in the abdomen, similar to a heartbeat
  • Severe, sudden pain in your abdomen or lower back. If this is the case, your aneurysm may be about to rupture.

If your aneurysm ruptures, you may suddenly feel intense weakness, dizziness, or back pain, and you may lose consciousness. This is a life-threatening situation and you should seek medical attention immediately.

How is an aneurysm diagnosed?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are most often found when a physician is performing an imaging test for another condition. If your physician suspects that you may have AAA, he may recommend one of the following tests:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan

The interventional radiologists at South Florida Vascular Associates frequently perform endovascular aneurysm repairs to treat patients with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Call (954) 725-4141 for more information or to schedule an appointment, or use our online appointment request form.