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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

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The aorta is the major blood vessel from the heart that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and leg region.The aorta runs out through the heart into the chest, it is called as the thoracic aorta. When this aorta reaches the abdomen, it is called as abdominal aorta. This aorta supplies blood to the lower part of the body. Just above the navel button, the aorta divides into two branches, the iliac arteries. The iliac arteries carry blood to both legs. It is a thick blood vessel and any rupture or injury to the aorta can lead to life-threatening complications.

What is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is ballooning of the abdominal aorta from its normal size leading to serious complications. The aorta supplies blood to the body and a rupture of a growing aneurysm can lead to internal bleeding. A weak abdominal aorta balloons or expands leading to abdominal aortic aneurysm. The blood, pressure within the aorta causes the weak portion of the aorta to balloon out. Normally the aorta stretches about 1 inch in diameter. In case of abdominal aortic aneurysm, the aorta spreads beyond its normal margin.

In some cases, abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause embolization. Blood clot or debris from the abdominal aortic aneurysm can travel to other organs in the body. If any blood vessel gets blocked, it leads to severe pain and even loss of limb in extreme cases.

It is very important to diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysm even before the symptoms appear. This will help in total treatment from the aneurysm and possible complications caused by it.

Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm

In most cases, the affected person never has any symptoms. This gives the aneurysm to grow slow and reach a point of bursting. In some cases, the aneurysm expands rapidly. This rapid expansion of the aorta causes one to experience a throbbing pain in the middle or lower part of the stomach. Other symptoms include:

  • Pulsating feeling around the navel
  • Deep pain in the abdomen or side of the abdomen
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in scrotum, in case of men

Complications of Ruptured Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

When symptoms are observed abdominal aortic aneurysm, it is a dangerous condition. The complications associated with such a condition include:

  • Rupture of the aneurysm
  • Peripheral embolization
  • Large amount of blood spilling into the abdominal cavity leading to death

Causes of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

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The exact cause for abdominal aortic aneurysm is unclear. Some risk factors that can lead to abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Drinking alcohol can cause inflammation of the arteries
  • Atherosclerosis can affect the walls of the arteries and this can lead to abdominal aortic aneursy
  • A severe infection, trauma or injury to the aorta can lead to AAA
  • Age (over 60 years of age)
  • The condition is more common in men than women (men are 4 times more likely to suffer from AAA than women)
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Hypertension

Diagnosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Apart from a complete medical history and physical examination, the diagnostic procedure for aneurysm includes:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound of abdomen
  • Arteriogram

Treatment Options

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is treated according to its size and risk involved. If a small AAA of around 4 cm (1.6 inch) is detected, the doctor may choose a wait-and-watch approach. This is because the risk of surgery in this case is higher than the risk of rupture.

A large (about 2.2 inches or 5.6 cm), fast-growing aneurysm (one that grows 0.5 cm in 6 months) or one that has ruptured, requires surgery. There are two types of surgery:

  • Open-abdominal surgery, which is an invasive procedure
  • Endovascular surgery, which is a less invasive procedure

The option of surgery and other methods of treatment depends on the location, size, kidney function, age and overall health of the patient.

According to the U.S Preventive Services Task Force, males aged 65 to 74 yearsold who have a history of smoking should undergo an ultrasound. This will help in early detection and prevention of rupture of abdominal aortic aneurysm. AAA is a serious condition with life-threatening complications. Follow your doctors advice to prevent a fatal consequence.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 05, 2015

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