Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

The Aorta is the largest artery in the body; it extends from the heart to the lower abdomen.

An aortic aneurysm is an abnormal swelling, widening or bubble in the wall of the aorta caused by a weakening in the muscle layer. Typically an aortic aneurysm is small at first; however, over time the constant pressure in the aorta distends the bubble into a balloon like bulge. The bulge in the aorta is called an aneurysm.

An aortic aneurysm can develop anywhere along the length of the aorta, but usually occurs in the abdomen.

Causes

  • An inherited tendency or inherited defect
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

Symptoms

People with an aortic aneurysm may not have symptoms and are diagnosed by chance during tests for unrelated medical problems.

Aneurysms are like balloons when they are small they are unlikely to leak or rupture however as the get bigger the chance of rupture increases. If the Aneurysm does start to leak or indeed rupture the main symptom is pain in the abdomen, back or chest. It can be a mild pain or sudden in onset and severe.

If you are aware of anyone in your family having a history of an aortic aneurysm you should have a discussion with your doctor about an ultrasound to exclude the presence of an aneurysm and regular screening may be advised.

Treatment

Aneurysms less than 5cm are usually monitored and reviewed every year. Aneurysms greater than 5cm are generally offered surgical repair to avoid rupture.