Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs when a weak area in the aorta (the major blood vessel that sends blood through the body) dilates and quietly expands. The dilated area can rupture or leak. Often AAA is only discovered when it appears on an X-ray taken for some other reason – or when it ruptures.
AAA is the third leading cause of death in men ages 60 and older. Nearly 90 percent of the time, a ruptured AAA causes death, so it is important to discover and treat it early.
Risk factors include:
- Gender (males more than females)
- Family history of AAA
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Genetic disorders (such as Marfan syndrome)
As an abdominal aortic aneurysm grows the risk of rupture increases. It is best to detect an abdominal aortic aneurysm early. If it is small, we may decide to watch and monitor it for a while, or we might suggest minimally invasive surgery to repair it. Such a procedure can be done with minimal discomfort and a short hospital stay and recovery.
Medicare covers the cost of ultrasound screening for AAA in high-risk individuals. However, they must request a referral during their “Welcome to Medicare” physical and arrange for the screening within a year of enrolling in Medicare Part B.
The low-cost AAA screening saves lives. Talk to your family doctor about your risk factors and whether you should have an AAA screening. For more information about abdominal aortic aneurysms, go to www.swedish.org/aaa.