Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

Overview

What Is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge (aneurysm) in a weak or damaged area of your aorta wall. AAAs occur in the abdominal section of your aorta down near your stomach.

Your aorta is your body’s largest artery, one of the vessels that move blood from your heart to the rest of your body. It runs from your heart all the way down to the bottom of your abdomen.

At Aurora Health Care, we are always on the lookout for patients who may develop AAAs because they can be silent killers. You may not have any symptoms of this condition until your aneurysm bursts. A burst aneurysm would cause you to bleed internally and requires emergency surgery.

AAA Screenings Can Save Lives

Our medical team believes strongly in AAA screenings for high-risk patients.

If you are age 65 or older, have smoked and/or have other risk factors for AAAs, expect us to recommend an ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) screening test.

We also have consistent procedures in place system-wide to identify people who may develop AAAs or who already have AAAs and need immediate care.

Fortunately, Medicare also covers a one-time, AAA ultrasound screening for qualified, new enrollees. Learn more about Medicare-covered screenings.

World-Class Care

Aurora’s Specialized Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Care

At Aurora, we diagnose and treat more people with AAAs than any other health system in Wisconsin. And we have a lot of experience treating even the most complex AAAs.

Our world-class vascular surgeons and related specialists offer:

  • Advanced treatments: We offer custom-made stent-grafts (fabric-wrapped mesh tubes that support weak arteries) for unusually shaped AAAs. Without this option, patients would need traditional aneurysm surgery. Learn more about endovascular grafting.
  • Proactive screening programs: We developed a Best Practice Alert to help identify and screen people who are at risk of developing AAAs. We are also developing innovative ways to get high-risk patients (who already have undergone screenings) into our treatment centers right away.
  • Coordinated care: Our Center for Marfan and Aortic Disorders specializes in complicated aortic conditions like AAAs. Our vascular, heart, electrophysiology and other doctors work together closely to develop the best care plan for you.

Symptoms

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Symptoms

AAAs can develop very slowly, so most people who develop AAAs have no symptoms. However, if an aneurysm gets large, you may feel:

  • Back or side pain that develops suddenly and/or lasts a few days
  • Steady, gnawing abdominal pain that lasts for hours or days
  • A pulsating sensation near your belly button (navel)

AAAs can quickly become life threatening. If you have unexplained abdominal pain that doesn’t go away, contact your doctor immediately.

Symptoms of a Ruptured Aneurysm

If the AAA gets worse and ruptures (tears open), you need immediate, emergency medical care. Signs of a rupture include:

  • Sudden, severe chest pain
  • Loss of consciousness or shock

Diagnosis & Treatment

Thorough Evaluation & Treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAAs)

Most people who develop AAAs never know they have them. However, your doctor could find the aneurysm during a routine exam or diagnostic test for another health issue.

It’s important to follow your medical team’s recommendations if they suggest you undergo a screening test for an AAA. Your doctor may recommend an AAA screening if you:

  • Are over age 65
  • Have smoked
  • Have other health conditions, such as atherosclerosis or high blood pressure, that make AAAs more likely

Diagnostic Tests for AAAs

The most common tests we use to identify AAAs include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound testing: This is the most common AAA test, which Medicare covers on a one-time basis for qualified members. Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of your aorta and help your doctor detect an AAA.
  • Angiography: A catheterization procedure using special, thin tubes allows your doctor to insert dye into your artery. This procedure makes blood vessels like your aortic artery easier to view. Learn more about cardiac catheterization.
  • Radiographic testing:
    • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Find out more about heart and vascular testing and diagnosis at Aurora.

AAA Treatment Options

We offer a variety of options for treating AAAs. They include:

  • Medication: Prescription medication can help lower your blood pressure, relax your blood vessels and reduce the risk of a small aneurysm bursting.
  • Endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR): Aurora is one of the only locations in the country that can insert a custom-made stent graft treat unusually shaped AAAs. Without these custom stents, people need to undergo surgery that involves open incisions. Learn more about endovascular grafting.
  • Traditional aneurysm surgery: A surgeon replaces or reinforces your weak artery section with a synthetic graft. This is complex surgery, and you’ll spend several days in the hospital. Learn more about aneurysm surgery.

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Our Center for Marfan and Aortic Disorders specializes in aortic conditions.

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