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Heart Health

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: What They Mean for You

Rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can happen in an instant, so it's critical to know the signs and how to react if you or a loved one experiences this life-threatening situation.

An AAA is an abnormal expansion of the aorta (the main artery leading away from the heart) that slowly and silently weakens its wall, causing the vessel wall to bulge and increases the risk for rupture. If the abdominal aortic wall ruptures, immediate care is critical to save your life. Approximately 200,000 Americans are diagnosed and 15,000 die annually from AAAs.

Individuals suffering from a ruptured AAA typically experience severe pain in the abdomen and back. It is important for them to be transported to the closest hospital that offers AAA surgery. Generally, patients are evaluated in an emergency room, but sometimes surgery has to begin within minutes.

Two types of surgery are available to treat AAAs: the open approach and the endovascular approach.

  1. The open approach involves opening the abdomen down the middle, resulting in a minimum one-week hospital stay and an approximately 12-week recovery period.
  2. The endovascular approach is less invasive and repairs the aorta from the inside, resulting in an overnight hospital stay and an approximately two-week recovery.

While the exact cause remains unknown, ongoing research continues to determine the source of the condition. Many AAA patients have previous heart conditions, have smoked, and are over the age of 60. An AAA can happen to anyone, but the older the patient, the more likely you are to have an aneurysm.

It is important to detect aneurysms before they rupture, and seeing a doctor regularly can help with this. Medicare now offers a one-time ultrasound screening examination for high risk patients on entry into Medicare.

This article originally appeared in The Ohio State University Medical Center's Heart Newsletter and is published with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 11, 2011

Jean  E Starr, MD Jean E Starr, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Vascular Surgery
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University