An abdominal aortic aneurysm is localized widening (dilation) of the aorta as it passes down through the abdomen. The aneurysm generally measures around 3 cm or more in diameter and weakens the aortic wall. As the diameter increases, chances of the aneurysm rupturing increase as well.
Rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be highly lethal. Warning signs usually start with an excruciating pain in the low abdomen and/or back with the aneurysm itself becoming tender. Profuse bleeding then occurs followed by shock. Death may follow these events rapidly.
Other complications include peripheral embolizations of clots within the aneurysm and infections caused by the aneurysm.
Treatment and repair
Small aneurysms causing no symptoms can often be observed by a physician during periodic evaluations. Ultrasound may be performed on a yearly basis to determine whether or not the aneurysm is getting larger.
Surgery is frequently used to repair aortic aneurysms larger than 5.5 cm in diameter in an effort to prevent them from rupturing. Two different surgical procedures are used, one being less invasive than the other.
• Traditional surgery (open repair) consists of cutting the abdomen, then locating and removing the aneurysm. The damaged portion of the aorta is replaced with a synthetic Dacron tube.
• Endovascular surgery (stent grafting) is a less invasive procedure sometimes used. It involves placing a permanent stent (graft) within the blood vessel itself and guiding it to the site of the aneurysm. The stent helps to support the artery. This procedure can be performed without cutting open the abdomen.
While Endovascular surgery of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms is less invasive, not all aneurysms can be repaired in this manner. In addition, the benefits of this type of surgery may be short-term when compared to the long-term effectiveness of traditional surgery. Traditional surgery requires a much longer recovery period.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms are more common in males over the age of 60 although they can develop in anyone. They are the 13th leading cause of death in the United States.