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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

The aorta is the main blood vessel (artery) that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in an artery wall. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the part of your aorta that passes through your belly.

  • Aneurysms may cause a pulsing feeling in your belly

  • Aneurysms that are large or are growing need surgery to prevent them from bursting

  • If the aneurysm bursts, blood flows out and you have severe pain and low blood pressure

  • You will die if you don't have surgery

  • Doctors often find an aneurysm during a regular exam or from an imaging test (such as an x-ray or CT scan) taken for another problem and found by accident

You're more likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm if:

  • You're a man

  • You're between the ages of 50 and 80

  • Someone in your family had one

  • You have high blood pressure

  • You smoke

What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

The most common cause is a weakness in the wall of your aorta. This weakness is usually caused by hardening and narrowing of your aorta (atherosclerosis).

Less common causes are:

  • Injuries to the aorta, often from a car crash

  • Diseases that cause inflammation of the aorta, such as aortitis

  • Disorders that run in families and damage your body's tissues, such as Marfan syndrome

  • Certain infections, such as syphilis

What are the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Many people have no symptoms.

Symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • A pulsing feeling in your belly

  • Strong pain in your back when you didn't hurt yourself

If your aneurysm bursts, symptoms include:

  • Terrible pain in your lower belly and back

  • Tenderness in the area over the aneurysm

  • A sudden, dangerous drop in your blood pressure (shock)

You'll die if your aneurysm bursts and you don't get treatment.

How can doctors tell if I have an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Doctors usually find aneurysms during regular physical exams if they feel a pulsing bulge in the middle of your belly. Your doctor will listen over the bulge with a stethoscope to try to hear the whooshing sound that your blood makes as it moves through the aneurysm. They also may find an aneurysm by accident when they do an imaging test (such as an x-ray or CT scan) for another reason.

To check the size of the aneurysm, doctors may order:

How do doctors treat an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Doctors will check on the size of your aneurysm about every 3 to 6 months.

If your aneurysm is smaller than about 2 inches wide, doctors may have you:

  • Avoid smoking

  • Take blood pressure medicine

If you have a larger aneurysm, you'll need surgery.

Surgery

Doctors may do surgery to insert a tube (graft) into your aorta to repair the aneurysm. Two types of surgery are possible. The doctor may cut open your belly to insert the graft. Or the doctor may put the graft in your aorta by going through an artery in the upper part of your leg. Which type of surgery you have depends on your age, health, and what part of the aorta your aneurysm is in.

If your aneurysm bursts or is about to burst, emergency surgery to fix it may save your life. Without surgery, you will die.

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