An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an enlarged or swollen area in the aorta. Since the aorta is the largest vessel in the body, an AAA rupture would require emergency medical treatment.
The deterioration of aortic wall tissue is commonly caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that form plaque in the arteries. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- Age (older than 60)
- Male (though women can develop AAA)
- Family history
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Many people with an abdominal aortic aneurysm do not experience any symptoms. However, as the aneurysm’ size begins to increase, it is possible to develop severe back or abdominal pain, a pulsating mass near the naval, a rapid heart rate and/or clammy skin.
Size and growth speed typically classify AAAs. If the aneurysm is less than 5.5 centimeters, and there are no symptoms, your doctor may recommend regular ultrasound monitoring instead of treatment. If the aneurysm is greater than 5.5 centimeters, or it begins to grow too quickly, your doctor may recommend removing the aneurysm before it ruptures or other serious complications develop. There are two surgical options used to remove an AAA:
- AAA open repair. In this procedure, a large cut is made in the abdomen. The abnormal vessel is replaced with a graft to reinforce the walls of the aorta.
- Endovascular stent grafting. This procedure is when a thin, hollow tube called a catheter is inserted into the leg near the groin, eliminating the need for a large incision in the abdomen. This tube allows an endovascular stent graft to reinforce the aorta’s wall and help keep the damaged area from rupturing.