Abdominal aortic aneurysm refers to an enlargement or swelling in the abdominal part of the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to different parts of the body.
Aneurysms may form in different parts of the aorta, but abdominal aortic aneurysms are the most common form of this condition. It can be a life-threatening situation if the swelling breaks open resulting in internal bleeding.
How big are they?
The aneurysm may range from small (about 1.6 inches) to large (more than 2.2 inches). The swelling may remain the same without any changes, but in some it may grow rapidly and start leaking.
Treatment depends on the size and growth of the aneurysm.
Abdominal aneurysms may not show symptoms until it becomes large and patients may not be aware of its existence.
But as the aneurysms grow, it results in symptoms including:
• Pulsating feeling in the abdominal region, often near the navel
Rupture of aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency and surgery is required.
The actual causes of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm are not known.
As a large amount of blood flows through the aorta, weakened walls of the blood vessel bulge outwards forming aneurysms. A normal aorta is around 2 cm wide and with a large aneurysm it may grow up to 5.5 cm.
Infection and inflammation of the aorta may weaken the wall of the blood vessel, leading to enlargement.
Accumulation of fatty tissues within the blood vessel, called atherosclerosis, is also a possible cause of abdominal aortic aneurysm. Smoking may expedite the enlargement of the aneurysms. High blood pressure also speeds up wall damage.
4 Making a Diagnosis
Making a diagnosis of abdominal aortic aneurysms is often done during a routine physical examination or during screening for another disease or condition.
People who are at increased risk of developing this condition are recommended to have abdominal ultrasound as a screening test.
All men above the age of 55 years with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms should have abdominal ultrasound to rule out the possibility of enlargement in aorta. Angiograms are helpful in the detection and treatment of aneurysms in the abdomen.
Treatment of this condition is based on the size and growth of the aneurysm.
Watchful waiting is the recommended treatment for small aneurysms in the range of 1.6 inches. Patients should have an ultrasound scan, once every 6 months, for review of symptoms and to observe the growth of the aneurysm. In general, surgery is not recommended for small aneurysms.
Aneurysms that are in the range of 1.6 to 2.1 inches may also not need a surgery. Watchful waiting is often recommended as the risk of surgery is more when compared to that of the aneurysms.
Large aneurysms that are growing fast need a surgical repair of the wall. Large aneurysms are more than 2.2 inches in size and grow more than 0.5 cm within six months. Surgery replaces the weak portion of the aorta with a graft that prevents rupture.
The two common types of surgical methods are:
• Open surgical repair – in this procedure, the surgeon replaces the damaged portion of the aorta with a graft through open surgery. This method has a good success rate, but the recovery period is long. Patients return to normal activities within 2 to 3 months after the surgery.
• Endovascular surgical repair – it is a less invasive procedure when compared to open surgery. In this method a synthetic graft is placed in the damaged portion of the aorta using a catheter. Recovery time for this procedure is shorter. The type of surgery depends on a number of factors like age, other complications, and location of the aneurysm.
Having a healthy heart is the best way to prevent abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Avoid cardiovascular risk factors like smoking, and follow a healthy diet and exercise regimen to keep blood vessels safe and sound.
If one has any of the predisposing factors of this condition, regular screening for the presence of aneurysms, particularly after the age of 65 years, is very helpful in detection and treatment of aortic aneurysms.
7 Lifestyle and Coping
A healthy lifestyle is the best home remedy for controlling and coping with aortic aneurysms.
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