Information Screening Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is the 13th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 10th leading cause of death for men over age 55, according to the USC Center for Vascular Care (2010). A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is often fatal, and two out of three people with a ruptured aneurysm die before they can even get to a hospital (2010). These statistics are particularly alarming because in most cases, abdominal aortic aneurysms produce no symptoms.

Luckily, abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually treatable if they’re caught before they rupture. But since people with this disease typically don’t experience any symptoms, those at risk should consider medical screening to identify the problem early. This is particularly true if you’re in a high risk category for abdominal aortic aneurysms, since insurance doesn’t typically cover preventative measures and doctors can’t do anything to help you if they don’t realize there’s a problem. Early intervention can save your life.

What is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur when the cell layers of the aorta–a large blood vessel that carries blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs–becomes weakened or disrupted Once the aortic aneurysm surpasses five centimeters in length, the aneurysm is at high risk for rupture. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is an extremely serious medical emergency that can lead to severe blood loss and shock. In a majority of cases, a ruptured aneurysm is fatal.

Who is at Risk for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is more likely to occur in some people than in others. You may be at risk if you:

  • Have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Have diabetes
  • Have hardening of the arteries
  • Have high LDL cholesterol
  • Have high blood pressure, even if you’re taking medication for it
  • Have pre-existing heart disease
  • Smoke.

Age and general health also play a role. People who are more than 30 pounds overweight are at risk for abdominal aortic aneurysms. Men over age 55 are particularly at risk, although women who have other risk factors should also have medical screening done.

How Does Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Work?

Health screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms involves ultrasound technology, which is non-invasive and pain-free. During this procedure, a technician spreads gel on the patient’s abdomen and uses an instrument called a “transducer” to capture images of the abdominal aorta. If the aortic aneurysm measures more than 3 centimeters, the patient is referred to a doctor for further tests and preventative measures.

You’ll need to take certain steps before going in for your abdominal aortic aneurysm screening test. Fast for at least four hours prior to your test, and make sure that the last meal you eat is light. You may drink a small amount of water or half a cup of coffee or tea during the fast. Don’t skip any prescription medication while fasting. To make the screening test easier, wear a loose two-piece outfit.

Preventing Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Healthy habits can go a long way toward preventing abdominal aortic aneurysms. For example, following a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly can decrease your risk. If you smoke, quit. Reducing the amount of stress in your life may also help.

Regular medical screening is the most important step you can take to prevent abdominal aortic aneurysms, especially if you fall into a high-risk category. Depending on your situation, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, which may help prevent an aneurysm from forming.

Resources

Cleveland Clinic. (2009). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/aneurysms/hic_abdominal_aortic_aneurysm.aspx.

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/abdominal-aortic-aneurysm.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Medline Plus. (2010). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000162.htm.

Tan, W. (2010). Abdominal aortic aneurysm, rupture. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/416397-overview.

University of Southern California Center for Vascular Care. (2010). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.surgery.usc.edu/divisions/vas/abdominalaorticaneurysm.html.