Talk to Your Doctor about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

If you are a man age 65 to 75 and have ever smoked, ask your doctor about getting screened (tested) for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

Am I at risk for AAA?

Men over age 65 who have smoked at any point in their lives have the highest risk of AAA. Both men and women can have AAA, but it's more common in men.

Risk factors for AAA include:

  • Family history – for example, if a parent or sibling had AAA
  • Smoking
  • Older age
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease or vascular disease (problems with blood vessels)

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, 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 rupture (burst), 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 talk to your doctor if you may be at risk.

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The Basics: Testing and Symptoms

How do I know if I have AAA?

To screen (test) for AAA, your doctor may order an ultrasound. 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 until it’s a medical emergency. Blood vessels like the aorta can swell up slowly over time, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about AAA to see if you need to get tested.

A ruptured aneurysm can cause dangerous bleeding that can lead to death. If this happens, you may suddenly have:

  • Pain in your lower back, abdomen, or legs
  • Nausea (feeling like you are going to throw up)
  • Vomiting (throwing up)
  • Clammy (sweaty) skin

You will need surgery right away.

What does AAA look like?

Here's an example of what AAA looks like inside the body:

Illustration: Abdominal aortic aneurysm

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Take Action!

Take Action: Talk to Your Doctor

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:

What about the cost of screening?

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover AAA screening for men ages 65 to 75 who have smoked. This means you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

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

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Take Action: Lower Your Risk

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 help setting up a plan to quit.

Check your blood pressure.

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

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. Find out more about eating healthy.

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

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