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Understanding Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

You may have been told that you have an aneurysm. This is when a weakened part of a blood vessel expands like a balloon. An aneurysm in the main blood vessel in your stomach area is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

What is AAA?

Front view of abdominal aorta with aneurysms. Dotted line shows normal width of aorta.
An aneurysm occurs when a weakened part of the aorta wall stretches and expands.
The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. With AAA, part of the aorta weakens and expands. If an aneurysm gets large enough, it may burst. This is very serious, and usually fatal.

How is an aneurysm detected?

AAA usually causes no symptoms. It is often found when tests (such as an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan) are done for an unrelated problem. Or your doctor may find it while feeling your stomach during a routine exam.

Who develops AAA?

These things increase your chances of having AAA:

  • AAA runs in your family

  • Your age—AAA is more likely as you get older

  • Men are more likely than women to have AAA

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol level (a buildup of fat and other materials in the blood)

  • Injury (such as a car accident

What can be done?

Surgery can be done to remove an aneurysm. Your doctor will weigh the chances that the aneurysm will burst against the risks of surgery. Because a small aneurysm is not likely to burst, it may be watched for a while. When it reaches a certain size, you may have surgery to replace that section of your aorta.

Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/20/2014
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