Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

The aorta is the main blood vessel running just in front of the vertebral column from the heart to the legs. It carries nearly all of the blood coming from the heart.

An aneurysm is an abnormal dilation of the aorta. There are multiple causes of aneurysms including male sex, age, hypertension, smoking, family history, infection and other disease. It may initially seem that dilation would simply allow more blood to flow. However, there are two problems which result from this. As the aorta dilates, the wall becomes thinner and therefore weaker. This means that eventually the wall will rupture which is a critical life threatening event which can happen without warning. The other main problem occurs because dilation of the vessel slows the flow increasing the risk of thrombus formation which cause be swept into the major branches causing severe problems.

Aortic Aneurysms are more common in men but do occur in women. Mild dilation of the aorta is not uncommon, but the risk of complications rises steeply as the aneurysm enlarges further. Small aneurysms are usually carefully monitored, but larger aneurysms (generally about 5cm in diameter) generally need treatment.

Treatment can either be achieved with open surgery, but modern techniques now allow some aneurysms to be treated with a minimally invasive endoluminal techniques (EVAR – Endovascular Aneurysm Repair). However, not all patients are suitable for minimally invasive techniques.

If you have a known Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm and are waiting for treatment and develop sudden back or abdominal pain you should present to your nearest emergency department.

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