Abdominal aortic aneurysm

In order to understand what an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is and the implications, it is essential to know about the structure and function of the aorta. The aorta transports oxygenated blood from our heart to rest of our body parts. The aorta runs starting from the chest and ends into the abdomen. At the region just below the navel, our abdominal aorta splits into two arteries called the iliac arteries. The abdominal aorta is responsible of supplying blood to the lower portion of our body including the abdomen, pelvis and legs.

If there is a weak part in our abdominal aorta, it tends to expand and bulge as the blood flows through this blood vessel. This condition is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If the aneurysm in the abdominal aorta is stretched beyond a limit, it can bulge, expand and even burst. This causes internal bleeding. A slowly expanding aneurysm which is less than 5.5 cm wide will generally not cause long term problems but larger aneurysms which expand rapidly can burst and prove fatal.

Generally, abdominal aortic aneurysms are not symptomatic. They are often discovered when an ultrasound or CT scan is done to diagnose other conditions. Sometimes one may feel a throbbing or pulsating feeling in the abdomen. However, this is not necessarily indicative of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Rapidly expanding aneurysms can cause severe pain and discomfort. The pain is deep, originating at the middle of the abdomen and radiating to the back. If the aneurysm ruptures, there will be sudden and severe abdominal pain and pulsations, clammy skin, nausea and abdominal distention. People can also get low blood pressure due to massive blood loss.

The next question is how an abdominal aortic aneurysm is diagnosed. Doctors may be able to feel this kind of aneurysm by simply palpitating the abdomen. A stethoscope can also reveal abnormal sounds due to turbulent blood flow in the aneurysm. If a doctor suspects the presence of an aneurysm, he will recommend an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. An ultrasound will detect the presence of the aneurysm and also give an idea of its size. Sometimes, a CT scan is recommended to get a clear picture of the size and extent of the aneurysm. MRI scanning may also be used in order to get a more detailed picture of the problem.

There is no one specific cause for abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition is seen more frequently in males over the age of 60. Arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries due to deposits of fats is a likely cause of aneurysm. This condition can cause the aortic wall to weaken. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking.

If an aneurysm in the abdominal aorta is less than 2 inches in diameter, doctors may recommend some medical treatment to stop the aneurysm from expanding and rupturing. You will also be advised to stop smoking and go in for regular check ups to monitor the size of the aneurysm. For larger aneurysm, doctors will recommend aneurysm repair surgery. During this process, an incision will be made in the abdomen and the weakened part of the abdominal aorta will be replaced with a strong, durable, plastic tube like graft. Another alternative to more invasive surgery is an endovascular stent graft. In this procedure, doctors will use X ray and video images to guide a tube made of fabric and metal through the blood vessels to the site of aneurysm. Careful follow up will be required after the procedure.

To prevent aneurysms, it is advised to eat a healthy well-balanced diet, exercise regularly stop smoking and reduce stress. Of course, good medical care is advised to help catch any such problems early whenever possible.

Last updated on Jul 5th, 2010 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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