The aorta is a major blood vessel that runs from your heart through the central part of your chest and abdomen and provides the main supply route of blood to your body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs if the wall of the aorta weakens and a balloon-like dilation of the aorta gradually develops.
At South Charlotte General and Vascular Surgery, our vascular specialists perform indicated screening, surveillance, and repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms, right here in South Charlotte with excellent outcomes. To make an appointment with one of our aortic aneurysm specialists, click here.
How common are AAA’s?
AAAs affects approximately 5% of the population in the US, and typically occur in individuals who are over 55, more frequently in white men rather than women, and individuals that have hereditary or other risk factors. The majority of these aneurysms occur below the kidneys.
What causes an aortic aneurysm to develop?
Aortic aneurysms develop as a result of a degenerative process in the wall of the aorta. Over time, the section of the aorta just before the bifurcation (where the aorta divides to give an artery to each leg) loses its strength and starts enlarging, particularly if the patient has high blood pressure and other risk factors.
The factors that may contribute to the development of AAA include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Plaque build-up
- Being a white male over the age of 55
- Hereditary factors: your family history is important. Aneurysms run in families. If a first-degree relative has had an AAA, you are 12 times more likely to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm particularly, if your mother has AAA.
What are the symptoms of an AAA?
Abdominal aortic aneurysms often develop slowly over time and may not cause any symptoms until they become quite large, at which point they may rupture when the wall becomes so thin that it tears, and internal bleeding ensues. Patients with AAA's may not be aware of the progressive condition, and it is not uncommon for these aneurysms to be diagnosed during a yearly physical examination. Your doctor may feel a pulsatile mass slightly to the left of the midline between the umbilicus and the chest bone. Nowadays, AAA’s are more likely to be incidentally diagnosed when an X-ray or CT scan of the abdomen is obtained for another health issue and shows the AAA to be present.
Should I be checked for AAA?
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, men in the age group of 65–75 years who have a history of smoking should get an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms, even if they have no symptoms.
If you have other risk factors, your doctor will review your medical and family history, perform a physical exam and may order some tests. Your doctor will give you his best recommendation and refer you to our office if it is appropriate.
What tests will I have?
Abdominal ultrasound: our vascular technologists are highly trained and certified, and use the most advanced ultrasound machine to diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysms in our accredited vascular laboratory right here in South Charlotte. Our vascular surgeons are then able to screen for an AAA, measure its size, monitor its growth, and identify any potential problems with the wall of the aorta. The ultrasound is also a very useful tool that is also extremely helpful in monitoring and evaluating the outcome of all aneurysm repair our vascular surgeons may perform.
CT scan: is a more advanced test that is used to obtain very clear images and precise measurements when our vascular surgeons are considering an aneurysm repair. The scan creates a road map to study the size and shape of a particular aneurysm, allowing the surgeon to plan the best repair possible.
Are AAA’s dangerous?
An aortic aneurysm may remain the same size for a long period of time. Once an aneurysm starts enlarging, it may take 4-5 years before it reaches a size that would put it at risk of rupture. Aneurysms become significantly more likely to rupture when they reach a diameter of 5.5cms, and the risk increases quite rapidly after that.
AAA diameter (cm)
Risk of rupture per year
Risk of rupture lifetime
What are the signs of AAA may be rupturing?
AAA may start leaking before they completely rupture. If you know you have a AAA and or experience any of the following symptoms, notify someone immediately and call 911:
- Severe, sudden or persistent pain in the abdomen or back that may spread to legs, buttocks or groin
- Shock or losing consciousness
- Rapid heart rate and sweating
- Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
- Sudden loss of feelings in both legs with mottling of the legs
How are aneurysms treated?
Because AAAs occur in patients with cardiovascular risk factors, it is essential that these risk factors are kept under control. In particular, smoking cessation is essential as smokers are at much higher risk of rupture, and their aneurysm is likely to grow much faster than in non-smokers. Treating high blood pressure and cholesterol and maintaining optimal weight can help in the prevention of AAA in most patients.
At South Charlotte General and Vascular Surgery, our vascular specialists work very closely with your primary doctors to screen, monitor and repair your AAA, if the time comes when such repair is needed. They will discuss with you the indications, risks and benefits as they present you with a treatment plan, so you can be well informed and make the decision that is right for you. (See: AAA Repair)
To schedule an appointment with our aortic aneurysm specialists, you can call or request an appointment online.