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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Aorta is a tough, durable and largest blood vessel that supplies blood throughout the body.  Abdominal aortic aneurysm is caused when there is a bulge or enlargement in the lower end of the aorta (aortic part that travels down to the abdomen).

When the walls of the aorta get weaken, it causes a focal dilation of the original artery, which may burst and spill blood inside the body.

Abdominal Aortic AneurysmWhat is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a permanent pathological condition that causes enlargement of the aorta present in the abdomen. The abdominal aorta is usually about 2 cm wide, but if the individual has an abdominal aneurysm, then the diameter is increased to 3 cm or more.

Depending on the size and speed at which they are growing, an abdominal aneurysm is of two types, they are:

  1. A slow-growing abdominal aortic aneurysm is small and has a lower-risk of rupture than those that grow faster. It is also known as small abdominal aortic aneurysm, and it is safely monitored with regular abdominal ultrasound.
  2. A fast-growing abdominal aortic aneurysm is more likely to get ruptured, which lead to internal bleeding and other serious complications. It is also known as large abdominal aortic aneurysm, and it requires surgery if it causes leakage of blood.

What causes Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

The exact reason that causes abdominal aortic aneurysm is unknown, but several factors that lead to an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • Smoking and other forms of tobacco use damages the walls of the arteries and weakens them, which causes bulging of the artery and increase the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • High blood pressure causes weakening of the aortic walls and damages them, which leads to the formation of an aneurysm.
  • In few cases, abdominal aortic aneurysm may occur due to hereditary factors.
  • Vascular inflammation is a rare and serious condition that causes inflammation within the aorta.
  • Hardening of the arteries can also cause an abdominal aortic aneurysm, due to the development and accumulation of fat and other substances in the lining of a blood vessel.
  • Trauma due to any accident also causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Symptoms of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

In several cases, abdominal aortic aneurysm grows slowly, and the individual does not experience any symptoms unless they rupture. If an aneurysm gets ruptured then the individual might experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Sweaty skin
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Throbbing sensation near the navel

Risk factors for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

Factors that increase the risk of developing abdominal aortic aneurysm:

  • Age: The risk of developing abdominal aortic aneurysm is high in an individual with 60 years or older.
  • Gender: Males are at increased risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm than females.
  • Race: White people are at increased risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm than compared with black people.
  • Family history: Having a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm increase the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • Another aneurysm: Having an aneurysm in any other large blood vessel will have a higher risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Complications of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

Rupturing of an aneurysm is the major complication of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm may cause internal bleeding and can be life-threatening. The risk of  rupture increases with the size and the speed of growth of  aneurysm.

Blood clots are one of the common complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm. Small blood clots develop near the region of an aortic aneurysm and break elsewhere in the body and block the blood vessel. This causes pain and blocks the flow in the legs, toes, kidney or abdominal organs.

Diagnosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is usually diagnosed when examining abdomen for other reasons. The doctor will review the medical history, family history and conduct a physical examination to feel the bulge in the abdomen.

The doctor recommends certain specialized test if an abdominal aortic aneurysm is suspected, they include:

Abdominal ultrasound: Abdominal ultrasound is a painless diagnostic test to detect abdominal aortic aneurysm. This procedure uses high-frequency sound waves to view and capture images of the organs inside the abdomen.

CT (computerized tomography) scans of the abdomen: CT scan is a specialized type of X-ray that helps the doctor to view the organs, blood vessels, and bones inside the abdominal cavity. This scan provides a detailed image of the aorta and also helps in detecting the shape and size of an aneurysm.

Abdominal MRI: An abdominal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a painless imaging test that creates images of the abdomen to detect any abnormalities by using magnetic and radio waves.

Treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

Treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is initiated based on the size and rate at which an aneurysm is growing. The main goal of treating an abdominal aortic aneurysm is to prevent the rupturing of an aneurysm. Treatment options for abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

Medical monitoring:

Medical monitoring is recommended when an aneurysm is small, and the individual does not experience any symptoms. Medical monitoring includes:

  • Regular appointments to determine the size and growth of an aneurysm by performing imaging tests
  • Managing other medical conditions to prevent worsening of an aneurysm
  • Detecting the signs and symptoms experienced by the individuals

The doctor recommends an abdominal imaging test for every six months. The frequency of imaging test may vary based on the size and growth of an aneurysm.

Surgery:

Surgery is recommended if an aneurysm is larger and is growing too quickly. Surgical options for abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

Open abdominal surgery: Open abdominal surgery is performed by removing and replacing the damaged part of the aorta with a synthetic tube (graft). It is an invasive surgical procedure and the recovery time is long. This surgery is performed if an aneurysm is very large or is ruptured.

Endovascular surgery: Endovascular surgery stabilizes the weakened walls of the aorta by inserting a synthetic graft inside the aorta. It is an innovative and less invasive procedure with less discomfort and short recovery period.

Prevention of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:

An abdominal aortic aneurysm can be prevented by:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a proper diet
  • Smoking cessation
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Controlling the cholesterol levels

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