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Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta (the largest artery in the body), resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning. Aortic aneurysms may be caused by a build-up of plaque called atherosclerosis, a defect present at birth, or an infection.

The most common location of an aneurysm is in the abdominal section of the aorta, specifically the area below the kidneys. However, aneurysms can also occur in the upper chest area of the aorta. The larger the aneurysm, the more potential there is for rupture of the aorta, which is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention, indicated by a sudden feeling of intense weakness, dizziness or pain, and you may eventually lose consciousness.

Because non-invasive ultrasound tests most often find abdominal aortic aneurysms, the Society for Vascular Surgery and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a one-time AAA screening using ultrasound imaging for men age 65 years or older, particularly those with a history of smoking or a family history of AAA, and in women if the same risk factors are present.

What are the symptoms of aortic aneurysm?

Most aortic aneurysms do not cause symptoms. Your doctor may find one during a routine examination or while performing a test for another condition. Sometimes a patient may feel abdominal or back pain, which may be a sign of an impending rupture. If you have a known aortic aneurysm and experience abdominal, back or side pain, you should contact your physician immediately.

What are risk factors for aortic aneurysm?

Risk factors include:

  • Age 65 or older
  • Family history of aneurysms
  • History of vascular disease (arteries and veins)
  • Vascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Smoking

Your risk of developing aortic aneurysm increases as you age. Aortic aneurysm is more common in males than in females.

How is aortic aneurysm diagnosed?

If your physician discovers you have an aortic aneurysm, follow-up tests may be ordered if your vascular specialist suspects this is a life-threatening condition:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MR)
  • Computed tomography (CT)

Depending on the size of the aneurysm, your vascular specialist may choose a "wait and see" approach, with regular checkups to monitor its growth. Once an aneurysm reaches a certain size, or if symptoms develop, your vascular specialist may recommend surgery. 

How is aortic aneurysm treated?

Our strategy is to identify people who are at high risk for an aortic aneurysm through screening. If patients are diagnosed, we monitor them regularly and treat them before complications develop. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms do not rupture, but the likelihood of a rupture increases significantly as the aneurysm grows in size.

A simple, noninvasive ultrasound imaging test of the aortic area will confirm the presence of an aneurysm.

Treatment for aortic aneurysm may include:

  • Routine ultrasound tests to monitor the size and rate of growth of the aneurysm
  • Endovascular aortic aneurysm repair with stent implants
  • Open surgical aortic aneurysm repair. In cases where the aneurysm is located in a hard to reach area or where it covers an extended area, open surgical repair may be necessary. After the patient is given general anesthesia, the vascular surgeon cuts open the aneurysm and sews in a stent to act as a bridge for the blood flow. This prevents the blood flow pressure from further expanding the weak aorta wall.

Why Inova?

Inova Heart and Vascular Institute is a leader in the repair of aortic aneurysms using standard surgical procedures and minimally invasive or endovascular (within the blood vessels) techniques. The endovascular technique requires only a needle puncture or small incisions in the groin and the use of X-ray guidance and specially designed instruments to repair the aneurysm.

Inova has developed a team of experts to diagnose and treat aneurysms using the best method for each individual patient. This team includes vascular surgeons, interventional radiologists, and cardiac surgeons interested in aneurysm care.