LIFESTYLE

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA): Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

'A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal.'

24/11/2016 12:33

People in England are three times more likely to die from abdominal aortic aneurysms than those in the US, according to a new study.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a swelling, or aneurysm, of the aorta – the main blood vessel that leads away from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body.

According to the NHS, this particular aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is usually around 2cm wide. However in some cases, it can swell to over 5.5cm.

At this point, it is considered to be a large abdominal aortic aneurysm - or AAA.

A large aneurysm is rare, but can be very serious, as if it bursts it can cause internal bleeding and even death. So it’s certainly worth knowing the warning signs and risk factors. 

Dana Neely via Getty Images

What Is It?

AAAs are most common in men aged 65 and over. In fact, a burst aorta accounts for around one in 50 deaths in this group of people and roughly 6,000 people are killed every year.  

It is thought that the abdominal aorta might begin to bulge when its wall weakens. 

While it is unknown what causes this weakness, doctors believe that smoking and high blood pressure play a part. 

“Prevention and treatment to reduce the size of the swelling, centres around keeping blood vessels healthy,” explained Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy

“Smoking should be avoided and patients should ensure they consume a low fat diet and that they take regular exercise.” 

Symptoms

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “In most cases there are no noticeable symptoms for abdominal aortic aneurysms and most people won’t be aware that they have one.

“However if an aneurysm becomes large it can cause pain, a pulsating feeling in your abdomen, or persistent back pain.”

Dr Webberley added that the swelling itself doesn’t usually pose a serious threat. 

“It is the risk of that swelling rupturing that is the real cause for concern, as a ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal,” she explained. 

Treatment

According to the NHS, treatment for an AAA depends on several factors such as the aneurysm’s size, your age and general health. 

If the aneurysm is 5.5cm or larger, people are often advised to have surgery to either strengthen the swollen section of the aorta or to replace it with synthetic tubing. 

If it is small, between 3-4.4cm, or medium-sized, 4.5-5.4cm, doctors will offer regular scans to monitor its size and will offer advice on how to slow its growth. 

“AAA is far more common in men over 65. For this reason, all men are invited for a screening test when they turn 65,” said Wilkinson.

“This test involves a simple ultrasound scan and takes around 10-15 minutes. 

“If you are female or under 65 and think that you may have AAA or are at risk of developing it, then speak to your GP about the possibility of being referred for an ultrasound scan.”

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