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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

OVERVIEW

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is the enlarged area in the lower part of the aorta. The aorta is the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body and runs from the heart through the center of the chest and abdomen. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding. The size and rate at which the abdominal aortic aneurysm is growing determines the treatment and varies from watchful waiting to emergency surgery. Once an abdominal aortic aneurysm is detected, it will be closely monitored so that surgery can be planned if necessary. Emergency surgery for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is risky.

Symptoms

Abdominal aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and are usually asymptomatic, thus making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms start small and stay small and never rupture. Many aneurysms expand over time, while others expand quickly. Predicting the rate at which an abdominal aortic aneurysm may enlarge is difficult.

Indications of enlarging abdominal aortic aneurysm are:

  • A pulsating feeling near the navel
  • Deep, constant pain in your abdomen or on the side of your abdomen
  • Back pain
Causes

The exact cause of abdominal aortic aneurysms is unknown, but the factors that could play a role include:

  • Tobacco use : Cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use increase the risk of aortic aneurysms. Smoking causes damage to the arteries and contributes to the buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries and high blood pressure. Smoking can speed up growth of aneurysms by further damaging the aorta.
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) : Atherosclerosis increases the risk of an aneurysm as fat and other substances build up on the lining of the blood vessels.
  • Vasculitis (infection in the aorta) : In rare cases, abdominal aortic aneurysm is caused by an inflammation or infection that leads to weakening a section of the aortic wall.

Risk factors

The risk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • Age : Abdominal aortic aneurysm is most often seen in people who are 65 years and older.
  • Sex : Abdominal aortic aneurysms are more common in men than women.
  • Tobacco use : Tobacco use is a very strong risk factor for developing abdominal aortic aneurysms. The longer the exposure, the greater the risk.
  • Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) : The plaque buildup in the form of fat and other substances can damage the lining of blood vessels increasing your risk of an aneurysm.
  • Family history : A family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms increases the risk of having aneurysms in individuals. They tend to develop aneurysms at a younger age with a higher risk of rupture.

Complications

The main complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm are tears in the wall of the aorta (dissection). A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding. The larger the aneurysm is the greater the risk of rupture.

Signs and symptoms that your abdominal aortic aneurysm has burst include:

  • Sudden, intense and persistent abdominal or back pain that radiates to the legs
  • Sweatiness
  • Clamminess
  • Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure and fast pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Risk of blood clots. Small blood clots can develop in the area of the aortic aneurysm which blocks blood vessels in the body. This can cause pain or block the flow of blood o the kidneys, abdominal organs, legs, or toes.