Screening For Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms are a leading cause of death in the United States, particularly in men over age 55, according to the USC Center for Vascular Care (2010). A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can be nearly immediately fatal, and two out of three cases result in death before the patient can even reach the hospital (2010).

These statistics are particularly alarming because in most cases, abdominal aortic aneurysms produce no symptoms. However, abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually treatable if they’re caught before they rupture, which is when medical screening can come into play.

What is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is characterized by localized swelling or widening of the aorta, the main artery that comes out of the left side of the heart. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is like a tire blowout waiting to happen—and pressure can continue to increase until the aneurysm ruptures.

When an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures, it causes intense pain and life-threatening bleeding.

Why is Medical Screening for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Important?

Because a ruptured aneurysm is so serious, medical screening is an essential step in determining the health of the aorta. Without health screening, an abdominal aortic aneurysm is usually discovered by accident or incidentally, when a patient has an ultrasound or CT scan medical screening for some other condition.

If a screening test reveals an abdominal aortic aneurysm, doctors can act to prevent a rupture. If the aneurysm is larger than 5.5 centimeters, surgery to repair the blood vessel is recommended.

If the abdominal aortic aneurysm is smaller than 5 centimeters, doctors may recommend close monitoring with additional health screening, medication and lifestyle changes.

Is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Medical Screening Right for Me?

The risk factors for an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • Age: The condition is more prevalent in people over 65.
  • Arteriosclerosis: Also known as “hardening of the arteries,” this condition contributes to most cases of abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • Cigarette smoking: Smokers aren’t only more likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, they’re more likely to have it rupture.
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • High blood pressure
  • High serum cholesterol.

If you’re at an increased risk for developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, discuss a screening test with your doctor.

How Does an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Health Screening Test Work?

Ultrasound is a safe and non-invasive form of medical screening with an excellent track record in measuring the size of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. CT scanning is often used as a follow-up screening test before surgery.

What Can I do with My Screening Information?

After health screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you and your doctor will discuss the results and make plans for surgery, if necessary.

If surgery is not necessary, you and your doctor may form a health plan that includes:

  • Additional screening tests
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Using a beta-blocker medication.

Resources

Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. (n.d.). Abdominal aortic aneurysms. Retrieved October 12, 2010, from http://www.surgery.usc.edu/divisions/vas/abdominalaorticaneurysm.html

Life Line Screening. (n.d.). Abdominal aortic aneurysms. Retrieved October 12, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/disease-information/abdominal-aortic-aneurysm.aspx

Society for Vascular Surgery. (2010). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved October 12, 2010, from http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/AbdominalAorticAneurysm.aspx

University of Southern California Center for Vascular Care. (2010). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from http://www.surgery.usc.edu/divisions/vas/abdominalaorticaneurysm.html

Wedro, B., and Lee, D. (2008). Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Retrieved October 12, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/abdominal_aortic_aneurysm/article.htm