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.

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)

If you think you may be at risk for AAA, talk to your doctor.

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The Basics: What is AAA?

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.

What does AAA look like?

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

Illustration: Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Why do I need to talk to the doctor?

Aneurysms usually grow slowly without any symptoms. When aneurysms grow large enough to 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 ask the doctor about your risk.

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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 (ruptured) 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.

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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

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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 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. Find out more about eating healthy.

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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