The aorta is the largest artery in your body, and it carries oxygen-rich blood pumped out of your heart. Your aorta runs through your chest and down to your abdomen. The abdominal aorta supplies blood to the lower part of the body. In the abdomen, just below the navel, the aorta splits into two branches, called the iliac arteries, which carry blood into each leg.
When a weak area of the abdominal aorta expands or bulges, it is called an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA). The pressure from blood flowing through your abdominal aorta can cause a weakened part of the aorta to bulge, much like a balloon. Aneurysms are a health risk because they can burst or rupture. A ruptured aneurysm can cause severe internal bleeding, which usually leads to shock or even death.
Aside from internal bleeding, the condition can cause another serious health problem called embolisation. Clots or debris can form inside the aneurysm and travel to blood vessels leading to other organs in your body. If one of these blood vessels becomes blocked, it can cause severe pain or even more serious problems, such as limb loss.
Your risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm increases as you get older. However, it is more common in men.
It is unclear what actually causes this condition to develop. It may be caused by inflammation in the aorta, which may cause its wall to weaken or break down. This inflammation can be associated with atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up in an artery.
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition include:
- Being male and over 60 years of age
- Having an immediate relative, such as a mother or brother, who has had the condition
- Having high blood pressure
Although you may initially not feel any symptoms, when they do develop, you may experience one or more of the following:
- A pulsing feeling in your abdomen, similar to a heartbeat.
- Severe, sudden pain in your abdomen or lower back.
- Your feet may develop pain, discoloration, or sores on the toes or feet.
If your aneurysm bursts, you may suddenly feel intense weakness, dizziness, or pain, and you may eventually lose consciousness. This is extremely seriously and you should seek urgent medical attention.
- Watchful Waiting
If your aneurysm is small, your Doctor may recommend "watchful waiting," which means that you will be monitored every 3-12 months for signs of changes in the aneurysm size. Your Doctor may prescribe medication to lower the pressure on the weakened area of the aneurysm. If you smoke, you should obtain help to stop smoking, as it is more likely to increase in size quickly if you continue to smoke.
An aneurysm will not "go away" by itself. It is extremely important to continue to follow up with your Doctor as directed because the aneurysm may enlarge to a dangerous size over time. It could eventually burst if this is not detected and treated.
- Open Surgical Aneurysm Repair
If surgery is recommended, you may have a surgical procedure called Open Aneurysm Repair. This may be necessary if your aneurysm is causing the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, is larger than 5.5 cm, or is enlarging too quickly.
- Endovascular Stent Graft
Instead of open aneurysm repair, you may be offered a newer procedure called an endovascular stent graft.This procedure is less invasive, using small incisions in your groin area through which to thread the catheters. However, it does require more maintenance than an open procedure. It is not suitable for all patients as it depends on the shape of the aneurysm in an individual patient and its proximity to the arteries in the kidneys.