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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Overview
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a condition of the largest blood vessel of the body, the aorta. It happens when this artery balloons outward and sometimes ruptures, leading to the need for urgent surgery to save the individual's life.
The exact causes of an abdominal aortic aneurysm are not completely clear but risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking history, male gender, high cholesterol, genetics, obesity and emphysema. It is most commonly seen in males over the age of sixty who have at least one risk factor. The bigger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to rupture and kill the individual afflicted.
Symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysm vary according to location and size of the aneurysm. An aneurysm develops slowly over a great many years and has no symptoms until it reaches a big size and starts to leak. A leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm has the following symptoms: you can have pain in the back or abdomen which is sudden, severe and constant. The pain may travel to the groin, legs or buttocks. There is clammy skin and the person is very sweaty. There can be profuse vomiting and nausea along with rapid heartbeat and shock-like symptoms. As soon as such symptoms develop, one should immediately seek medical attention because surgery can possibly save the person's life.
There are several tests or exams for abdominal aortic aneurysm. These include the findings of an abdominal mass or a stiff and rigid abdomen. There can be a large pulsing sensation in the abdomen that can be felt on exam. An ultrasound can show up a large aneurysm and a CT scan of the abdomen can show a dissecting, ruptured or unruptured aneurysm.
The difference between a dissecting aortic aneurysm and a ruptured aortic aneurysm is distinct. A dissecting aortic aneurysm is a situation where the blood travels between the walls of layers of the aorta but does not travel outside of the aorta. When it ruptures, the blood travels outside the confines of the aorta and can result in exsanguination.
The treatment of an abdominal aortic aneurysm involves surgical repair of the aneurysm as soon as the aneurysm reaches a size considered dangerous enough for rupture. If there is a dissecting aortic aneurysm or an early ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, the treatment is immediate surgery to repair the aneurysm. The mortality rate for treating ruptured aortic aneurysms is high.
If you have no symptoms, you need to decide with your physician whether the risk of surgery is smaller than the risk of bleeding if you let the aneurysm go. As yearly ultrasounds or CT scans are done, you must reevaluate your risk of letting the aneurysm go.
Your blood pressure must be kept as low as possible so the aortic aneurysm doesn't enlarge over time. This involves taking medications for blood pressure that keep high blood pressure away and help the blood pressure remain normal or even low.
If the aneurysm is two inches or 5.5 centimeters across and is growing quickly, surgery must be done to prevent a rupture. There can be a traditional open repair through the abdomen, where a graft is used to narrow the aortic diameter. The other approach is known as an endovascular stent grafting. This is done without needing an abdominal opening and you get better faster from the procedure. It cannot be done on aneurysms that are already leaking or dissecting.
The outlook or prognosis of an abdominal aortic aneurysm varies depending on whether or not it has ruptured. More than sixty percent of individuals with a ruptured aortic aneurysm do not survive their illness.
Complications of an abdominal aortic rupture includes having an arterial embolism, suffering from hypovolemic shock, having a heart attack, suffering from kidney failure or getting an embolic stroke.
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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here