Detecting a Hidden Threat

Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm can save your life

Published 6/25/2019
Written By Pamela Meyer, APRN, Surgical Care Group

Photo6_aneurysmgraphic-(1).jpgThe aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the lower part of the body. It extends from the heart through the abdomen where it branches into smaller vessels delivering blood to the body and organs. Generally, the aorta measures about 2 cm, but can range anywhere from 1.4–3 cm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an enlarged or weakened portion of the aorta measuring greater than 3 centimeters (cm) or 1.18 inches.

If detected early, an AAA can be monitored and treated surgically. If left untreated, an AAA has the potential to rupture and cause serious or even fatal bleeding. There are several genetic and lifestyle risk factors for developing an AAA, including:

  • Age greater than 60
  • Caucasian male
  • History of cigarette smoking, including E cigarettes
  • Plaque in the arteries as a result of high cholesterol
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Family history of AAA
  • History of other large artery aneurysms such as the large blood vessels in the legs
Often times, an AAA has no symptoms and is found during a routine physical exam, AAA screening, or on diagnostic imaging to evaluate for other medical conditions.

For this reason, The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends screening for those at risk.
  • Men ages 65-75 who have ever smoked, and
  • Men and women age 65-75 without a smoking history, but have a family history of AAA
Future follow-up and monitoring may be recommended based on the screening ultrasound findings.

Surgical treatment of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, if necessary, includes the traditional open abdominal incision. The surgeon removes the enlarged part of the aorta and sews a synthetic graft in its place. However, patients are often able to undergo a less invasive treatment called an endovascular repair of an AAA. During this procedure, small incisions are made in the groin and a folded graft is placed within the aorta through a catheter, bypassing the aneurysm.

Discuss your risk factors with your primary care provider. While quitting smoking and treating high blood pressure and cholesterol can help reduce the risks for an AAA; your healthcare provider may recommend screening. Medicare covers this screening for certain atrisk patients. The team at Catholic Medical Center Surgical Care Group is skilled at monitoring and treating AAAs.