Blood travels throughout your body on a highway of sorts. Arteries transport oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body; veins return oxygen-depleted blood back to your heart. Like a car accident, an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can disrupt this normal flow. Screening for this potentially fatal condition may save your life.
Your arteries have thick, flexible walls designed to handle the force of normal blood pressure. But they can become weakened. If they do, you may develop an aneurysm — a bulge in the artery wall. If that bulge grows too big, it may rupture, causing a life-threatening situation.
An aneurysm can develop in any artery. But an AAA forms in the lower part of your aorta, the largest artery in your body. The aorta extends from your chest down into your abdomen. It carries blood to smaller arteries that support your lower extremities.
Men are more prone to AAAs, particularly past or present smokers older than age 65. Some people are born with the condition. Most often, though, an AAA is the result of atherosclerosis, when the artery walls harden because of too much cholesterol or other fats in your blood. Other common contributors: an older age and high blood pressure.
An AAA rarely causes symptoms — until it bursts. When it bursts, or ruptures, you may feel a sudden, severe pain in your abdomen or lower back. Once that happens, you could die from internal bleeding.
Screening can help detect an AAA before it ruptures. Experts currently recommend that only men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked undergo AAA screening. But a recent review of past research suggests that all men ages 50 to 80 may benefit from this testing. One study that followed more than 67,000 men for more than a decade found those who were screened were 50% less likely to die from an AAA.
To screen for an AAA, a doctor uses ultrasound, a test that sends sound waves through your abdomen and converts them to an image on a computer screen. With this picture, your doctor can see if you have an aneurysm. Depending on the aneurysm's size, treatment may include a watch-and-wait approach, medication, or surgery.
Insurance companies don't always cover testing for an AAA. Talk with your doctor to check if screening makes sense for you. You should consider it if you have a family history of aneurysms, if you are a smoker, or if you have a condition that may weaken artery walls, such as high blood pressure.
Watch this video to learn more about AAAs.
A fruit-filled diet may help lower the risk for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs). That’s the finding of a study in the journal Circulation. Researchers asked more than 80,000 people how much fruits and vegetables they ate. They then tracked the health of those participants for more than 13 years. Those who ate the most fruit were 25 percent less likely to develop an AAA.
You can lower your risk with other heart-healthy measures, too. Most important, if you smoke, stop. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help prevent aneurysms and other heart-related conditions, such as high blood pressure.