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Diagnosis / Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

An aneurysm is an enlarged area of the artery wall that causes it to weaken and bulge. It can eventually rupture, causing internal bleeding and life-threatening ramifications. The two most prevalent areas where aneurysms develop are in the brain and the aorta.

Your aorta is the largest blood vessel in your body, and the one that supplies oxygen-rich blood to your entire body. It starts in the left ventricle of your heart, and moves down through the center of your chest and through your abdomen, where it then branches off into both of your legs. When an aneurysm develops in your aorta, it is categorized as either a thoracic aortic aneurysm (located in the chest cavity), or an abdominal aortic aneurysm (located in the abdomen). An aneurysm in the abdomen is the most common, and if it ruptures, can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

Risk Factors for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), but they do know that there are certain risk factors that could increase your chances of developing one, including:

  • Smoking – smoking inhibits circulation, and can weaken or damage the aorta and aorta walls.
  • Atherosclerosis – this is a condition caused by the buildup of plaque in your arteries, causing them to narrow or become completely blocked. This affects circulation and puts further stress on the artery walls.
  • High blood pressure – if you have high blood pressure, the increased force of the blood through the arteries can cause the walls to weaken and an aneurysm to develop.
  • Age and Gender – AAA is more often diagnosed in men, as well as anyone over the age of 65
  • Trauma or disease – injuries to the abdomen can damage the abdominal aorta, as can infections or inflammation.
  • Genetics and history – if you or a family member has a history of aneurysms in general or specifically, AAA, you are at a higher risk of developing AAA.

You may not be able to prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm from forming. However, you can lower your risk by:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising and eating healthy
  • Managing cholesterol and high blood pressure through diet changes and medication

Symptoms of AAA

An abdominal aortic aneurysm can grow slowly and without any warning signs, so they can be difficult to detect. They can vary in size – some may stay small, while others may expand slowly or all at once, and some may never rupture. As the AAA enlarges, however, symptoms may begin to show, including:

  • Constant pain deep in your abdomen
  • The ability to feel a pulse near your navel
  • Back pain

Diagnosing AAA can be done a number of ways, including using a CT scan, ultrasound, MRI or angiogram. If you are diagnosed with an AAA, treatment will depend on the size and how quickly it is growing. In some cases, your doctor may watch it carefully to determine what treatment may work best for you, or if it is a more severe case, emergency surgery may be necessary.

If you have been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, or want to undergo a preventative screening, call IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment with one of our team of experienced and professional interventional radiologists.

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