Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It delivers oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An aortic aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta. Over time, the blood vessel balloons and is at risk for bursting (rupture) or separating (dissection). This can cause life threatening bleeding and potentially death.
Aneurysms occur most often in the portion of the aorta that runs through the abdomen (thus the name abdominal aortic aneurysm). An abdominal aortic aneurysm is also called AAA or triple A.
Once formed, an aneurysm will gradually increase in size and get progressively weaker. Treatment for an abdominal aneurysm may include surgical repair or removal of the aneurysm, or inserting a metal mesh coil (stent) to support the blood vessel and prevent rupture.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Repair
Cause of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Many things can cause the breakdown of the aortic wall tissues and lead to an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The exact cause isn’t fully known. But, atherosclerosis is thought to play an important role. Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- Age (older than age 60)
- Male (occurrence in males is 4 to 5 times greater than that of females)
- Family history (first degree relatives such as father or brother)
- Genetic factors
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Symptoms of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
About three out of four abdominal aortic aneurysms don’t cause symptoms. An aneurysm may be found by X-ray, computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that was done for other reasons. Since abdominal aneurysm may not have symptoms, it’s called the “silent killer” because it may rupture before being diagnosed.
Pain is the most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The pain associated with an abdominal aortic aneurysm may be located in the abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area. The pain may be severe or dull. Sudden, severe pain in the back or abdomen may mean the aneurysm is about to rupture. This is a life-threatening medical emergency.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms may also cause a pulsing sensation, similar to a heartbeat, in the abdomen.
Medicare Coverage for AAA Screening
If you are over the age of 65 and have Medicare Part B (medical insurance) you are eligible for a one-time abdominal aortic aneurysm ultrasound. You must get a referral for it from your doctor.
People with Part B who are at risk. You’re considered at risk if you meet one of these criteria:
- You have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms.
- You’re a man age 65 to 75 and have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in your lifetime.
For more information, please visit medicare.gov