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What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Feb 5, 2016

PHOENIX (Feb. 5, 2016) –  Dr. Venkatesh G. Ramaiah explains about abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Answer: The aorta is the largest artery in the body and it carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart. The aorta runs through the chest, where it is called the thoracic aorta. When it reaches the abdomen, it is called the abdominal aorta.

The abdominal aorta supplies blood to the lower part of the body. In the abdomen just below the navel, the aorta splits into two branches, called the iliac arteries, which carry blood into each leg.

When a weak area of the abdominal aorta expands or bulges, it is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The normal aorta varies in size according to age, gender and body habitus, but the average diameter in adults is generally around 2 centimeters, so anything above 3 centimeters in diameter is considered aneurysmal.

Risk factors

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is about six times more common in men than women. Smoking is by far the most important risk factor, accounting for an estimated 75 percent of moderate to large aneurysms. Other risk factors include White race, family history, atherosclerosis, especially peripheral vascular disease and hypertension.

Although women have a lower incidence, they are at higher risk for rupture. This condition accounts for about 15,000 deaths annually in the United States, making it the 13th leading cause of death.

Diagnosis

Most abdominal aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic and are discovered incidentally when an imaging test of the abdomen (CT scan or ultrasound) is performed.

They can also be detected by physical examination when the health care professional feels the abdomen and listens for a bruit. Pain and a pulsatile mass are associated with larger abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Treatment

Rupture of an abdominal aneurysm is a catastrophic event and is associated with pain, abdominal distension, a pulsating abdominal mass and shock due to massive blood loss.

Overall mortality of rupture approaches 90 percent but survival with treatment is approximately 40 to 50 percent.

Endovascular Aneurysm Repair, a minimally invasive technique, has become the preferred method for the elective repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm in patients at high perioperative risk.

Venkatesh G. Ramaiah, MD, FACS, is medical director at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. For more information, go to AbrazoHealth.com.   

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