Abdominal aortic aneurysms are potentially life-threatening disorders. When cardiologists see patients with the symptoms of this condition, they order ultrasound scans to confirm a diagnosis. The appropriate treatment for each patient depends on several factors.
What Are Aortic Aneurysms?
In 2014, more than 9,800 U.S. residents died because of an aortic aneurysm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disorder is a bulge that resembles a balloon. It forms in the aorta, the artery responsible for transporting blood through both the chest and the torso.
A patient with an aortic aneurysm might experience life-threatening blood leakage between split layers of the vessel’s wall. A rupture occurs when the aneurysm actually bursts.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an aortic aneurysm that develops below chest level. Often the patient has no symptoms. When signs do occur, they include pain or throbbing in the side, back, legs, buttocks, or groin.
The most common cause of this condition is hardening of the arteries. Other culprits include injury, infection, and tobacco use. This disorder most often strikes males 65 and older.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The Mayo Clinic reports that physicians often discover this condition during an unrelated exam. Sometimes routine tests such as a chest X-ray reveal an aneurysm.
Cardiologists usually order specialized tests such as:
- An abdominal ultrasound
- A CT scan
- An MRI
The current protocol for this disorder recommends that men between 65 and 75 have a one-time abdominal screening if they have ever smoked. It also suggests that men at least 60 with a family history of this condition consider getting regular screenings.
Once a physician diagnoses a patient as having an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the treatment objective is to prevent a rupture of the aneurysm. For most patients, there are two therapeutic options.
Doctors typically monitor a patient who has a small aneurysm and who is not complaining of any symptoms. Monitoring means regular exams to confirm that the aneurysm is not enlarging. It is also an opportunity to manage any other health conditions that could impact the aneurysm. Measurement of the aneurysm usually involves undergoing abdominal ultrasound scans starting six or more months after a diagnosis. How often a patient needs these scans is tied to the aneurysm’s size, if it is growing, and how quickly it is enlarging.
Physicians most often recommend surgery if a patient’s aneurysm measures 1.9-2.2 inches, or is even larger. It is the treatment of choice for a fast-growing aneurysm. Surgery is also an option for a patient with symptoms such as pain, leakage, or tenderness. The two surgical options include:
- An open abdominal procedure removes the damaged part of the aorta and replaces it with a synthetic graft.
- An endovascular procedure is a less-invasive option in which the surgeon places a synthetic graft through a catheter in a leg artery.