The aorta is the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. When the aorta becomes very large and balloons out, an abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs. This can cause pain in the abdomen or back, the feeling of a pulsating navel and abdomen pain.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm must be monitored or operated on. If left unnoticed and untreated, the aorta may rupture and cause life-threatening bleeding.

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is when the lower part of the aorta becomes enlarged. The aorta is a major blood vessel that is about as thick as a garden hose and runs from the heart to the center of the chest and abdomen. It supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to break open, which can be life-threatening due to the excessive internal bleeding.

While the exact cause of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is unknown, there are factors that increase the likelihood of developing one. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is most often seen in males over the age of 60. These factors include:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • High blood pressure
  • Being male
  • Having certain genetic factors or a family history
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Infection of the aorta

What are the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm typically grows slowly and won’t always produce symptoms, which makes them hard to detect. Sometimes an abdominal aortic aneurysm start small and stay small, but most will expand over time. If the aneurysm grows quickly, symptoms will also continue to increase at a rapid rate.

As an abdominal aortic aneurysm enlarges, symptoms include:

  • A pulsating feeling near the navel
  • Deep, constant pain near the abdomen or near the side of the abdomen
  • Back pain

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures, a patient may feel these symptoms and should report to the emergency room:

  • Pain in the abdomen or back
  • Passing out
  • Clammy skin
  • Sweaty skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shock
  • Rapid heart rate

What tests are completed to diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Most abdominal aortic aneurysm are found accidentally during an examination for another reason such as a chest x-ray or routine exam.

If a physician thinks that a patient may have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the physician may examine the abdomen for a lump in the abdomen, a pulsating sensation in the abdomen or a stiff or rigid abdomen.

To confirm that a patient has an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a physician will likely schedule a specialized test such as an ultrasound to diagnose the aneurysm, a computerized tomography (CT) scan to confirm the size of the aneurysm or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

After a physician has diagnosed an abdominal aortic aneurysm, they will likely refer a patient to a vascular specialist for further monitoring and treatment.

What treatment options exist for an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Depending on the size of the abdominal aortic aneurysm determines what treatment option is chosen.

For a small aneurysm, which is about 1.6 inches or smaller in diameter, a vascular specialist may suggest observation. The vascular specialist will likely monitor the aneurysm with periodic ultrasounds. Surgery is rarely performed on a small aneurysm.

For a medium aneurysm, which is between 1.6 and 2.1 inches in diameter, a patient and vascular specialist will discuss the benefits of observation versus the benefits of surgery.

For a large aneurysm, which is larger than 2.2 inches, or a rapidly growing aneurysm, surgery will likely be needed. There are two types of surgery for abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Open-abdominal surgery. This is the traditional surgery used to treat an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It involves making a large cut in the abdomen. Then, the damaged section of the aorta is removed and replaced it with a synthetic tube that is sewn into place.

Endovascular surgery. This surgery is a less invasive procedure. During this surgery, a surgeon will attach a synthetic graft to the end of a catheter. The catheter is inserted through an artery in the leg and threaded up into the aorta. The graft is placed at the site of the aneurysm and reinforces the weakened section of the aorta to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.

What is the recovery process like for patients who have surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

The recovery process after surgery for abdominal aortic aneurysm varies depending on the type of surgery that was performed.

For open-abdominal surgery, most people stay in the hospital for five to ten days. During the stay, they will be monitored closely in the intensive care unit, have a urinary catheter and be encouraged to sit on the side of the bed and then walk.

The recovery time for endovascular surgery is shorter and experience less pain. Most patients stay in a hospital for two to four days. The hospital stay is similar to that of open-abdominal surgery in that patients will be monitored closely. Patients usually can walk the next day and leave the hospital when they are able to eat and walk.

What can a patient expect after surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

After surgery, a patient won’t be able to lift anything more than five to 10 pounds. Periodic check-ups will be scheduled, but there are more follow-up visits for patients who have endovascular surgery.

After having open-abdominal surgery, a patient can expect to recover within two to three months. For patients who undergo endovascular surgery, the recovery time is shorter.

After either surgery is performed, the likelihood that an abdominal aortic aneurysm will occur again is small. It is also unlikely that the aneurysm will rupture.

If you are experiencing symptoms related to an abdominal aortic aneurysm or if you are at a higher risk for suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, call 407.648.4323 or click here to schedule your appointment with a vascular specialist.

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