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Talk to Your Doctor about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The Basics

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.

Watch this short presentation to learn more about AAA.

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.

Here’s an example of what AAA does in the body:

Illustration: Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Am I at risk for AAA?
Men over age 60 who have ever smoked are at greatest risk for AAA.

Other risk factors for AAA include:

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.

If you have an aneurysm that starts to tear and cause bleeding, this is a medical emergency. 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.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Take these steps to lower your risk for AAA.

Talk with your doctor about your risk for AAA.
Here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor or nurse:

  • Do I need to get screened (tested) for AAA?
  • How can I get help to quit smoking?
  • What are my blood pressure numbers and cholesterol levels?
  • What other steps can I take to keep my heart and blood vessels healthy?

What about cost?
Screening for AAA is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Make changes to lower your risk for AAA.
It’s never too late to take steps to lower your risk for AAA.

Quit smoking.
Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to lower your risk for AAA. If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support and to set up your quit plan.

Check your blood pressure.
Get your blood pressure checked. If your blood pressure is high, getting active, watching your weight, and eating less sodium (salt) can help you lower it.

Get your cholesterol checked.
Find out what your cholesterol levels are. If your cholesterol is high, start a heart healthy eating plan. This means eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

Get active.
Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity every week. Check out these ways to add more physical activity to your day.

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