The Basics: Overview
If you are a man age 65 to 75 and have ever smoked, talk with your doctor about your risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). If AAA isn't found and treated early, it can be deadly.
What is AAA?
The aorta (“ay-OAR-tah”) is your body’s main artery. An artery is a blood vessel (or tube) that carries blood from your heart. The aorta carries blood from your heart to your abdomen (belly), pelvis, and legs.
If the wall of your aorta is weak, it can swell like a balloon. This balloon-like swelling is called an aneurysm (“AN-yoor-izm”). AAA is an aneurysm that occurs in the part of the aorta running through the abdomen.
Why do I need to talk to the doctor?
Aneurysms usually grow slowly without any symptoms. When aneurysms grow large enough to burst (break open), they can cause dangerous bleeding inside the body that can lead to death.
If AAA is found early, it can be treated before it bursts. That’s why it’s so important to ask the doctor about your risk.
The Basics: Am I at Risk?
What does AAA look like?
Here’s an example of what AAA looks like inside the body:
Am I at risk for AAA?
Men over age 65 who have ever smoked are at the greatest risk for AAA.
Other risk factors for AAA include:
- Family history of aortic aneurysm or heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
If you think you may be at risk for AAA, talk to your doctor.
The Basics: Symptoms
How do I know if I have AAA?
To check for AAA, your doctor may order an ultrasound test. An ultrasound uses sound waves to look inside the body. It can help your doctor see if there is any swelling of the aorta. Most types of ultrasounds are painless.
What are the symptoms of AAA?
There are usually no symptoms of AAA. Blood vessels like the aorta can swell up slowly over time. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor about AAA to see if you are at risk.
A torn or bleeding aneurysm is a medical emergency. If this happens, you may suddenly have:
- Pain in your lower back, abdomen, or legs
- Nausea (feeling like you are going to throw up) and vomiting (throwing up)
- Clammy (sweaty) skin
You will need surgery right away.