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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

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What is an aneurysm of the abdominal aorta?

An aneurysm is when a blood vessel develops a stretched and bulging section in the vessel wall. The abdominal aorta is a large blood vessel that supplies blood from your heart to your abdomen, the pelvis, and legs. Aneurysms can develop slowly over many years in the abdominal aorta and often have no symptoms. Over time, however, the aneurysm grows to the point where it is large, weakened and bulging. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to rupture which results in life-threatening bleeding. The 15th leading cause of death in the United States is ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Risk factors for developing an aortic aneurysm include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity. An abdominal aortic aneurysm can develop in anyone, but occurs in 1 of 20 older men. It is most frequently seen in people over 50 with one or more risk factors. Recent studies have shown that screening and surgery to repair large abdominal aortic aneurysms are effective at reducing the number of deaths in men caused by this condition. Few studies have been conducted in women; the published research indicates that women are at low risk for aneurysms.

Recently a U.S. Task Force has made the following recommendation:
Men who smoke, or who have ever smoked, between the ages of 65 and 75, should be screened with a one-time ultrasound for abdominal aortic aneurysm. See article below.

Health Risk Assessment:
Are you more than 30 pounds overweight?
Do you have pre-existing heart disease?
Are you a male over 55 years of age?
Is there a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm?
Do you have high blood pressure or do you take medication for high blood pressure?
Do you have atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries?
Do you smoke?
If you checked yes for 1 or more of the above risk factors, you may be a candidate for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening.
In the News...

U.S. Task Force Recommends: Men who smoke, or who have ever smoked, Between the Ages of 65 and 75, Should Be Screened with a one-time ultrasound for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
This is a recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Nearly 70 percent of men in this age group have smoked and would benefit from routine screening to check for aneurysms. The recommendation is published in the February 1 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Men ages 65 and older who currently are or have been regular smokers are at the highest risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Between 59 percent and 83 percent of patients with ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms die before reaching the hospital and having surgery. New evidence has shown that screening and surgery to repair large abdominal aortic aneurysms are effective at reducing the number of deaths in men caused by this condition. Few studies have been conducted in women, and the published research indicates that women are at low risk for aneurysms.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2005/tfaaapr.htm

Written by N Thompson, ARNP in collaboration with M Thompson, MD, Internal Medicine, Last updated March 2006

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