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An aortic aneurysm is when a blood vessel that supplies blood to your abdomen, pelvic and legs becomes abnormally large or balloons outward. The exact cause is unknown, but risk factors for developing an aortic aneurysm include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity. An aortic aneurysm can develop in anyone, but it is most frequently seen in people over 50 with one or more of these risk factors.
The larger the aortic aneurysm, the more likely it is to rupture. When an aortic aneurysm ruptures, it is a true medical emergency. Most aortic aneurysms develop slowly over many years and often they have no symptoms. However, if an aneurysm expands rapidly, tears open (ruptured aneurysm), or blood leaks along the wall of the vessel (aortic dissection), symptoms may develop suddenly.
The symptoms of an aortic aneurysm rupture include:
- Pulsating sensation in the abdomen
- Severe, sudden, persistent, or constant in the abdomen. This pain may radiate to groin, buttocks, or legs.
- Abdominal rigidity that involves abnormal muscle tension or inflexibility of the abdomen that can be detected when touched or pressed.
- Pain in the lower back that is severe, sudden, and persistent. The pain may radiate to the buttocks, or legs.
- Anxiety or a feeling of stress.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clammy skin.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Abdominal mass which is a localized swelling or enlargement in one area of the abdomen.
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The outcome is usually good if an experienced surgeon repairs the aortic aneurysm before it ruptures. However, less than 50% of patients survive a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Your doctor will examine your abdomen and also use an evaluation of pulses and sensation in your legs. In addition, you may also take these tests:
-- Abdominal ultrasound which is an imaging procedure used to examine the internal organs of the abdomen. The ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves that reflect off body structures to create a picture. Unlike with x-rays, there is no ionizing radiation exposure with this test.
-- CT scan of the abdomen that involves X-ray images of the abdomen from many angles. A computer reconstructs the data into a picture of the body area being scanned.
-- Angiography of the aorta that uses a dye and a rapid succession of X-ray imaging to show blood flow.
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Surgery is recommended for patients with aneurysms bigger than 5 cm in diameter and those that rapidly increase in size. The goal is to perform surgery before complications develop.
If it is small and there are no symptoms, your doctor may recommend periodic evaluation. This usually includes a yearly ultrasound, to see if it is getting bigger.
There are two approaches to surgery. In a traditional repair, the abnormal vessel is replaced with a graft made of synthetic material, such as Dacron. The other approach is called endovascular stent grafting. In this procedure a tiny tube made of metal mesh is inserted to help prop open the artery.
Heart and Vascular Health Services at
Rush University Medical Center
At Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, researchers and nurse specialists work in teams to address the full scope of heart problems, whether common or complex.
Working in state-of-the art facilities, using some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, these experts are on the leading edge of diagnosis, treatment and discovery. From preventive measures to heart transplantation, they are helping to revolutionize heart care.
For more information about cardiovascular services at Rush visit our Heart & Vascular Programs home page.
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