Abdominal aortic aneurysm, or AAA, may not be a common medical term or condition, though it has resulted in the deaths of many well-known people over the years, including Albert Einstein and actor George C. Scott. This weakening and ‘ballooning’ of the largest blood vessel in the body can result in sudden death if it grows too large and bursts. And though rupture doesn’t always occur, monitoring the growth of the AAA is necessary, as the risk of rupture increases with the size of the aneurysm.
Some 10,000-15,000 Americans die each year because of ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms.
The silent threat
According to St. Luke’s vascular surgeon Timothy Oskin, MD, AAA is referred to as ‘the silent threat, “because in many cases, there are no symptoms of AAA. It is often diagnosed accidentally during an unrelated medical scan, exam or procedure.”
Are you at risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm?
Your risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm increases if you: smoke, are male, have untreated high blood pressure and are 60 years old, or are related to someone who had or has an aneurysm. Certain genetic disorders also put people at a higher risk of developing this sometimes-fatal condition.
How is AAA treated?
“When aneurysms are small, physicians often take a ‘watch and wait’ approach with routine monitoring for growth of an aneurysm using a simple ultrasound scan,” says Dr. Oskin. “It is also important to modify and treat other risk factors to include smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and lung diseases such as COPD and emphysema. However, should the aneurysm become enlarged beyond a safe size, it may need to be treated. Fortunately, most aneurysms can be treated with a minimally invasive procedure.
Clearly, if more people afflicted by this potentially fatal condition were aware of it, and had it monitored and treated, death rates from it could be reduced significantly.
If you have any of the risk factors for an abdominal aortic aneurysm listed above, please make an appointment for a screening by a vascular specialist at the St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center.