Understanding abdominal aortic aneurysm and its symptoms

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a condition that causes the ballooning of part of the aorta found within the abdomen. The aorta is the largest blood vessel (artery) in the body that carries blood from the heart through the chest to the abdomen. Abdominal aortic aneurysm usually shows no symptoms unless it ruptures or bursts at which point it can be fatal.

Warning signs and symptoms of aneurysm

The normal diameter of the aorta in the abdomen is about 20 mm. AAA occurs when a section of the aorta in the abdomen balloons to 30 mm or more in diameter. This ballooning of the aorta is a cause of worry.

The ballooning results from sustained blood pressure inside the artery that causes weaker sections of the artery wall to swell. An AAA less than 55 mm wide, however, is still strong and has low chance of rupturing.

Deadly AAA symptoms

Although AAA usually causes no symptoms, a ruptured AAA causes severe internal bleeding which can be fatal. Aneurysm symptoms resulting from a ruptured aorta include:

  • Throbbing sensation in the abdomen
  • Acute pain on the side of your abdomen or in your back, and
  • Gnawing pain in the abdomen that lasts for hours or even days.

If you have any of these symptoms of AAA, seek medical help right away. AAA can lead to death if left untreated.

People most at risk of AAA

Because AAA causes no symptoms until it raptures, many people are not aware they have it until it’s too late. The condition is, however, common in men aged 65 and over. About 4 in 100 men and 1 in 100 women over the age of 65 have an AAA in the UK.

If you are aged 65 and over, you are strongly advised to go for routine ultrasound scans to screen for AAA. The condition becomes more common with increasing age. Routine ultrasound scans will help with early diagnosing and monitoring of its behavior over time. AAA is, nevertheless, rare in people under the age of 60.

AAA treatment options

When the aneurysm is 55 mm and above, there is a high risk that the aorta may rapture. In this case, an operation to repair the condition may be advised. However, surgical treatment of AAA is a dangerous procedure. A small number of patients die during or shortly after the operation. Surgery is usually only advised if you have an AAA larger than 55 mm wide.

A newer treatment technique called endovascular repair is the preferred treatment option because it doesn’t pose the risk of death. Consult your surgeon to learn more about the pros and cons of surgery. A qualified doctor will also be able to diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysm & its symptoms and help you determine which types of operation or treatment option is appropriate for you.

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