Understanding AAA

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), also known as the silent killer, is a balloon-like bulge that can develop anywhere along the aorta, which runs from your heart through your chest and abdomen. An untreated aneurysm can grow until it ruptures or causes a tear between the layers of the artery, also called a dissection.

“Most abdominal aortic aneurysms don’t cause any symptoms that is why they are known as the silent killer,” explains Richard Cambria, MD, Steward Health Care System Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. “You literally can’t feel a AAA as they are located internally in your body. When someone experiences sudden, severe pain in the back or abdomen, it may mean the aneurysm is about to rupture.”

Who is at risk for developing AAA?

You are at increased risk for AAA if:

  • AAA runs in your family
  • You smoke
  • Have high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Are older
  • Are a man as men are more likely than women to have AAA
  • Have high a cholesterol level

“Because an abdominal aortic aneurysm usually causes no symptoms, it’s often found when tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan are performed for an unrelated problem,” explains Dr. Cambria. “It’s very important for individuals with AAA to avoid cigarette smoking and control high blood pressure. Additionally, your doctor can do the simple screening test that’s covered by insurance if you’re between the age of 65 and 74 and have a family history of an AAA.”

How is AAA treated?

Surgery can be done to remove an aneurysm. Your health care provider will weigh the chances that the aneurysm will burst against the risks of treatment. Because a small and slow growing aneurysm is not likely to burst, it may be watched for a while. When it reaches a certain size, you may have surgery to replace that section of your aorta.

If you are at risk for AAA and meet the criteria, speak to your health care provider about abdominal aortic aneurysm screening.

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