When the wall of the artery becomes weak, the pressure of blood flowing through the vessel can cause it to bulge or balloon out. These bulges in weakened areas are called aneurysms. Most commonly, aneurysms are found in the aorta, the main artery that supplies blood to the body. An aneurysm that occurs in the part of the aorta that goes through the abdomen, or stomach area, is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm, "Triple A," or "AAA."
Small AAAs rarely rupture, but an aneurysm can grow large and burst, causing catastrophic bleeding that is usually fatal. When found in time, AAAs often can be successfully treated. However, an AAA can grow very large without causing symptoms. They're usually found because of tests done for other medical problems. Once diagnosed, routine checkups and treatment for AAAs are essential.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, risk factors for AAA include:
If you have any of the above risk factors, ask your doctor if you should be screened for AAA.
Because most AAAs grow very slowly over many years, in most cases your physician will schedule routine checkups to monitor the size of the AAA. The doctor may also prescribe medications to control blood pressure. Typically, no other treatment is recommended unless the AAA enlarges to a point it is considered a health risk.
At Baptist, vascular surgeons treat patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms. These physicians use a number of state-of-the art diagnostic tests to determine the size and location of the AAA and the recommended treatment options.
W. Stewart Horsley, MD
To fine tune your diagnosis, your physician may perform any number of tests, including the following.
A doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the structures inside your body. Ultrasound shows the size of an aneurysm. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
A CT scan uses x rays to take clear, detailed pictures of your internal organs. During the test, the doctor will inject a special dye into a vein in your arm. This dye highlights the aorta on the CT scan images. A CT scan can show the size and shape of an aneurysm in more detail than an ultrasound. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
MRIs use magnets and radio waves to create images of the organs and structures in your body. This test is very accurate at detecting aneurysms and pinpointing their size and exact location. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
For this test, dye is injected through a needle or catheter (tube) into an artery. After the dye is injected, an x ray is taken. The pictures from the x ray can show the location, type, and extent of the blockage in the artery. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Depending on what your physician discovers during any diagnostic tests you may receive, your treatment will range from a minimally invasive procedure to open surgery. Baptist offers the following treatment options:
During this minimally invasive surgery, vascular surgeons implant synthetic tubing containing supporting structures-called stents-into the weakened vessel. A small incision is made in the patient's groin and, using a catheter, the surgeon guides the stent within the blood vessels to the site of the aneurysm. With the stent graft in place, blood flows through the tubing without filling the aneurysm.
The standard and most common type of surgery for aortic aneurysms is open abdominal repair. In most cases, an incision is made from the breastbone to below the belly button. The doctor clamps the aorta slightly above and below the aneurysm. Any blood clot on the inside of the aorta is removed. An artificial wall made of Dacron, called a graft, is used to strengthen the area. The graft will be stitched to the normal aorta on either side. Then the clamps are removed and the wound is closed with stitches. It often takes a month to recover from open abdominal surgery and return to full activity.
If you would like to become a patient at Baptist, the first step is seeing one of our physicians. You can request a referral by calling the Baptist Health Line at 601-948-6262 or 1-800-948-6262.
Baptist has earned several prestigious certifications, accreditations and awards for our care of patients with cardiovascular conditions. See our full list of certifications, accreditations and awards.
If you have a family history of heart disease and/or stroke, you may be interested in our low cost screening programs. These screenings are available year round and provide results you can have sent to your personal physician.
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