Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia

Timely and considerate care of the arterial and venous systems.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)


Anatomy

The aorta is the main and biggest artery in the body.  It originates from the left ventricle of the heart into the ascending aorta, the aortic arch, the thoracic aorta (in the chest area), and the abdominal aorta (in the belly area).  The abdominal aorta then splits into the right and left common iliac arteries to supply blood to both legs.

The walls of the aorta are thick and muscular and that helps the aorta withstand high pressures created by the squeezing action of the heart to pump the blood.  This is important because the aorta carries blood full of oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body.  Therefore, it is important for this artery to stay healthy.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm, also referred to as AAA, occurs in the aorta that runs in the belly area.  An aneurysm is basically a bulge in or ballooning of the artery.  It happens when an area of the aortic wall becomes weak.  When that occurs, the high pressure of the blood flow pushes on the weakened area and causes it to balloon or bulge out.

In general, when an aneurysm is small it poses less threat to the patient.  However, as the aneurysm increases in size, the more risk it poses.  For example, a blood clot might form in the aneurysm which might in turn break off and travel increasing the risk of a stroke.  Also, the expansion of the aneurysm causes the walls at that area to become thinner and weaker, which increases the chance of rupture or bursting and that would be life-threatening.

Signs and Symptoms

Aneurysms can go undetected because when intact they might not produce any symptoms.  Some people might experience back pain or abdominal pain.  During a physical exam, a physician might detect a pulsatile mass in the belly.

If an aneurysm ruptures, it might cause shock, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death.

Risk Factors

The following might increase the chance of developing an AAA:

  • Aging
  • Use of tobacco.
  • Family history of aneurysms.
  • Being male.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Obesity.
  • High blood pressure.

Diagnosis

AAA is difficult to diagnose because the majority do not produce any symptoms.  A physician might suspect one if a pulsatile mass is felt in the belly.  Or it could be discovered by chance during an imaging test for other problems.  Once an AAA is found, the doctor will monitor it closely.  As the aneurysm increases in size, the risk of rupture increases.  So when the aneurysm reaches an upper limit size, the doctor might recommend an aortic repair.

Tests

An aneurysm can be detected by one of the following tests:

  • An ultrasound.
  • An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
  • A CT scan (Computed Tomography).
  • An angiogram.

 

Note:  This post is for information only.  It is not meant to replace a professional medical diagnoses.  If you suspect any health issues, seek professional medical help immediately.

 

Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia, P.C.
Vascular Laboratory

Our Physicians:
Robert S. Podolsky, M.D.
Avisesh Sahgal, M.D.

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