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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a weakness in the wall of the aorta, leading to significant enlargement in the abdominal section of the aorta.

condition

Definition

AAA NormalAn abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a weakness in the wall of the aorta, leading to significant enlargement in the abdominal section of the aorta. The aorta delivers blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm can burst, which can cause life-threatening uncontrolled bleeding. AAA is somewhat more likely to occur in men.

Causes

AAA SuprarenalThe exact causes of AAA are not known, though atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fatty substances, plaque and other elements) is believed to play a key role.

Risk

  • AAA InfrarenalHigh cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Family history of AAA
  • Being older than 60
  • Being a man — AAA is four to five times more likely to occur in men
  • Genetic disorders (such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner's syndrome and polycystic kidney disease) that affect connective tissue like the bones, cartilage heart and blood vessels
  • Giant cell arteritis — inflammation of head and neck arteries that reduce blood flow through those blood vessels
    Trauma
  • Infections of the aorta

Symptoms

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the back or abdomen (may signal a rupturing aneurysm)
  • Severe or dull pain in the abdomen, chest, lower back or groin
diagnosis

Diagnosis

  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan: X-ray views of the aorta are taken to determine if there are any aneurysms.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Radio waves and magnetic fields are used to show areas where an aneurysm may be present.
  • Ultrasound: Sound waves are used to measure blood flow in the aorta and determine whether there is an aneurysm.
  • Angiography: A dye is inserted into the arteries through a catheter, then an X-ray is taken to show how blood flows through the arteries and whether any aneurysms are present. UVA's angiography/interventional radiology suites are equipped with technology that allows for 3-D images of aneurysms to help determine the best plan of treatment.
treatment

Treatment

  • Close monitoring: A patient may undergo regular screenings to check the size and growth of the AAA to determine if treatment is necessary.
  • Lifestyle changes: Steps such as quitting smoking, controlling diabetes and eating a low-fat diet to reduce cholesterol levels may help keep the aneurysm from growing.
  • Medication: A patient may receive medicine to reduce cholesterol or blood-pressure levels. Carefully controlling high blood pressure is an important part of treatment.
  • Surgery: Surgeons may use a stent-graft (a cylinder-like tube) to repair the aneurysm. UVA has been a pioneer in minimally invasive endovascular techniques (only requiring a small incision in the groin) to repair AAAs. In some cases, open surgery (requiring a larger incision in the abdomen) may be necessary to repair the aneurysm.
Vascular Screenings

Are You Eligible? 

Just because you don't have symptoms of vascular disease doesn't mean you aren't at risk. We offer screenings every week at Northridge Medical Park.

Eligible patients include:

  • Age 65 or older
  • Age 50 or older with cardiovascular risk factors
  • Adults 45 years or older and an abnormal finding would prompt modification of your lifestyle or medical care
  • Family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm 

Insurance doesn't cover screenings if you aren't experiencing symptoms. The out-of-pocket cost is $99 for all tests.

Find out more (PDF) or call 434.924.5824.

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