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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge in your aorta that occurs when the aorta's walls are weakened. The aorta is a large blood vessel that extends from your heart to your abdomen. An AAA may develop anywhere in your aorta, but it often occurs in your lower abdomen, near your navel.


What increases my risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

The cause of AAA may not be known. The following factors may increase your risk of an AAA:

  • You have smoked in the past, or you currently smoke.

  • You have breathing problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • A close family member has had an AAA, or you have had one before.

  • You are 50 years of age or older.

  • You are a man. Men have a greater risk of AAA than women, but women with an AAA have a greater risk of it bursting.

  • You are white. White people have a higher risk of AAA than people of other races.

What are the signs and symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

You may have no signs or symptoms of an AAA that is not leaking. You may have any of the following:

  • Your abdomen feels full, or you feel a mass that pulsates or throbs in your abdomen. The pulse may be constant, or it may come and go.

  • You may slowly start to feel dull or throbbing pain in your abdomen.

  • Your toes turn blue.

  • You have trouble urinating, or you are constipated.

  • If your AAA is leaking or has burst, you may have any of the following. Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

    • You feel sudden, severe pain in your lower back, abdomen, legs, or side. The pain may spread to your thigh or groin.

    • You feel confused.

    • You have nausea and vomiting.

    • You feel lightheaded, dizzy, or wake up after fainting.

How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

Since you may not have symptoms, an AAA is often found when you have a test or exam for another reason. Your caregiver will feel your abdomen and listen to it through a stethoscope. You may also receive the following:

  • Ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the aorta, tissues, and organs inside your abdomen. Your caregiver will put gel on a sensor and move it across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a monitor. This test allows your caregiver to see the location of your AAA.

  • CT scan (CAT scan): An x-ray machine and computer are used to take pictures of the organs and blood vessels in your abdomen. They will show the size and location of your AAA. The size of your AAA will tell your caregiver the best way to treat your condition. You may be given dye before this test to help the pictures of your AAA show up better. This dye will be given through your IV. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish. This may mean you are allergic to some dyes.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses a powerful magnet and a computer to take pictures of your body. It may be used to see the location and size of your AAA. You may also need dye before this test to help the pictures show up better.

How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm treated?

Treatment will depend on the size of your AAA. Your caregiver may watch your AAA over time instead of treating it if the tests show it is small. Some AAAs stay small and may not need treatment. You may be treated with the following:

  • Medicine: You may be given blood pressure or cholesterol medicine to help stop your AAA from growing.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery to repair your AAA if it is large or grows fast. You will also need surgery if your AAA has leaked or burst. The procedure may be done through a large vein or by abdominal surgery. Your caregiver may do to surgery to repair your AAA if you have no other health problems or if you are in pain.

How can I help manage my abdominal aortic aneurysm?

  • Quit smoking: Tobacco smoke can worsen your AAA or make it grow faster and burst. Your caregiver may ask that you quit smoking 4 to 8 weeks before surgery. This may help you heal faster and avoid heart problems after surgery. Ask your caregiver for more information about how to stop smoking if you have trouble quitting.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments: Your caregiver will need to check the growth of your AAA in order to plan your treatment.

For more information:

  • Vascular Disease Foundation
    8206 Leesburg Pike, Suite 301
    Vienna , VA 22182
    Phone: 1- 703 - 485-4500
    Phone: 1- 888 - 833-4463
    Web Address: http://www.vdf.org
  • The Society for Vascular Surgery
    633 North Saint Clair Street, 22nd Floor
    Chicago , IL 60611
    Phone: 1- 312 - 334-2300
    Phone: 1- 800 - 258-7188
    Web Address: http://www.vascularweb.org

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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