Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

An aortic aneurysm is an unusual bulging or enlargement of the aorta. The aorta begins at the heart, curves to the back and then runs down the back of the chest into the abdomen, supplying blood to all of the body’s organs. 

When an aortic aneurysm occurs in the abdomen, we call it an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), and when it occurs in the chest, we call it a thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA). An aneurysm is like a weakened area of a garden hose or inner tube; the bigger the weakened area becomes, the more likely it is to burst. You have a 50% chance of surviving a ruptured aneurysm.

Causes of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The exact causes of AAA are not known, though atherosclerosis may be a key cause.

Other possible causes include: 

  • Older age
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking 

You may be more likely to get an aneurysm if a parent has had one. Additionally, certain thoracic aortic aneurysms are associated with a common heart valve condition called bicuspid aortic valve, which also runs in families.

Are You At Risk for AAA?

You may be at risk for AAA if you:

  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of AAA
  • Are older than 60
  • Are of male gender — AAA is four to five times more likely to occur in men
  • Have genetic disorders (such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner's syndrome and polycystic kidney disease) that affect connective tissue like the bones, cartilage and blood vessels 
  • Have giant cell arteritis — inflammation that reduces blood flow in head and neck arteries 
  • Have infections of the aorta

An aortic dissection may also put you at risk, as the dissection weakens the strength of the aortic wall and may allow it to enlarge into an aneurysm over time.

How to Diagnosis AAA

Speak with your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the back or abdomen
  • Severe or dull pain in the abdomen, chest, lower back or groin

Our team can diagnose you through tests that include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Angiography

Treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

You and your healthcare provider will choose a treatment method that suits your needs. Options include:

  • Close monitoring: You 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: You may need medication to help reduce high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Surgery: UVA is a pioneer in minimally invasive endovascular techniques, like stent-grafts, which only requires 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.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.