The aorta is one of the main blood vessels in the human body, which supplies blood to the heart up to your head and arms, and down to your abdomen, legs, and pelvis. Sometimes the wall of the blood vessel weakens and swells abdominal arteries which form a balloon-like dilation called an aneurysm. This form of aortic aneurysm is also referred to as Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA), abdominal aneurysm, or stomach aneurysm when it happens in the part of the aorta that’s in your abdomen. It’s a relatively common vascular disease. In the United States alone, nearly 200,000 people are diagnosed with abdominal aortic aneurysm every year and a ruptured aortic aneurysm is said to be the 15th leading cause of death in the country.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Causes
While the exact cause of it is still unknown, the abdominal aortic aneurysm can be caused due to various reasons and health issues that may result in the breaking down of the aortic wall. People who are most at risk of getting an abdominal aneurysm include men aged 66 or over and women aged 70 or over. The other risk factors include:
- Thickening of the abdominal arteries also known as atherosclerosis mainly happens when fat, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin build up on the lining of blood vessels which swell up the abdominal arteries.
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Infection in the aorta
- Genetic factors
- Congenital syndromes
Most people who have abdominal aortic aneurysms don’t exhibit any symptoms until the person is evaluated for other medical conditions but the symptoms can occur if the aortic aneurysm grows and gets bigger and starts putting pressure on the surrounding organs. Some of these AAA symptoms include:
- Stomach or chest pains. The pain may spread to the lower back, pelvis, and legs. The pain may come and go or can be constant and the severity of the pain also varies.
- Pulse in stomach
- Cold feet: This normally happens when a blood clot is formed because of the aneurysm and stops the blood flow towards the legs or feet
- Fever or weight loss
- In the case of a Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm the symptoms would be:
- Sudden extreme pain.
- A sudden drop in blood pressure.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Diagnosis
An abdominal aortic aneurysm that hasn’t yet ruptured is mostly diagnosed when a doctor asks you to get a scan of your abdomen for some other health concern. The screening test for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is an ultrasound test, CT scan, or abdominal MRI. After the scan is done (whichever was recommended by your doctor), a preventive care physician looks at the pictures to see if you have an aneurysm.
The treatment of the aortic aneurysm depends on its size. The bigger the aortic aneurysm the more likely it is to rupture. If you have a large abdominal aortic aneurysm, a graft may be placed to strengthen it and prevent it from rupturing. There are two types of surgery that can happen if you have a large aneurysm:
1) Endovascular Surgery: The graft is placed on the blood vessel in your groin, then passed into the aorta.
2) Open Surgery: The graft is placed on the aorta by making a cut near the stomach.
In case you have a small or medium-sized abdominal aneurysm (less than 5cm in diameter), it is much less likely to rupture. For this, you will be asked to have regular ultrasound scans to check if your aneurysm is getting bigger. You’ll also be recommended some lifestyle changes by your physician that will help reduce the risk of an aneurysm getting bigger or rupturing.
When To See A Doctor?
If you exhibit any of the above-mentioned symptoms like pain in the abdomen, back, legs, or constant pulse in your stomach, seek medical attention immediately.