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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Causes, Treatment, & Prevention
What Is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)?
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the human body. It carries blood from your heart down to your abdomen, legs, and pelvis. The walls of the aorta can swell or bulge out like a small balloon if they become weak. This is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) when it happens in the part of the aorta that’s in your abdomen.
AAAs don’t always cause problems, but a ruptured aneurysm can be life-threatening. Therefore, if you’re diagnosed with an aneurysm, your doctor will probably want to monitor you closely, even if they don’t intervene right away.
The cause of AAAs is currently unknown. However, certain factors have been shown to increase your risk for them. They include:
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Blood pressure refers to the level of pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. High blood pressure can weaken the walls of your aorta. This makes an aneurysm more likely to form.
Smoking can directly damage the walls of your arteries, making them more likely to bulge. It can also increase your risk of high blood pressure.
Vascular Infection (Vasculitis)
Serious infections within the aorta and other arteries can occasionally cause AAAs. However, this happens very rarely.
Aneurysms can form in any blood vessel in your body. However, AAAs are considered particularly serious because of the size of the aorta.
What Are the Symptoms of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?
Most aneurysms have no symptoms unless they rupture. If an AAA does rupture, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
sudden pain in your abdomen or back
pain spreading from your abdomen or back to your pelvis, legs, or buttocks
clammy or sweaty skin
increased heart rate
shock or loss of consciousness
Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. A ruptured aneurysm can be life-threatening.
Treating an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Depending on the size and exact location of the aneurysm, your doctor may perform surgery to repair or remove the damaged tissue. This may be done either with open abdominal surgery or endovascular surgery. The surgery performed will depend on your overall health and the type of aneurysm.
Open abdominal surgery is used to remove damaged areas of your aorta. It’s the more invasive form of surgery and has a longer recovery time. Open abdominal surgery may be necessary if your aneurysm is very large or has already ruptured.
Endovascular surgery is a less invasive form of surgery than open abdominal surgery. It involves using a graft to repair the weakened walls of your aorta.
For a small AAA that’s less than 4 centimeters wide, your doctor may decide to monitor it regularly instead of performing surgery. Surgery has risks, and small aneurysms generally don’t rupture.