Understanding Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) occur in the lower part of the aorta in the abdomen and result from the expansion of a weakened aorta wall. Because abdominal aortic aneurysms are typically slow-growing, patients may not have symptoms until it is near rupture, which can be a deadly condition. Our expert aortic disease team excels at identifying aneurysms and determining which treatment is best for your individual diagnosis.

abdominal aortic aneurysm
Abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Causes of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

While the exact cause is unknown, there are multiple factors that can lead to the breakdown of the aortic wall, allowing it to weaken and become susceptible to an aneurysm.

Atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque), along with other factors, plays an important role in aneurysmal disease. Additional risks include:

  • Age: Greater than 60 years old
  • Gender: Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur in males four to five times more often than in females
  • Family history: First degree relatives, such as father or brother
  • Genetics
  • Hyperlipidemia: Elevated fats in the blood
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes

A large number of abdominal aneurysms are asymptomatic. But when there are symptoms, they can include: constant pain in abdomen chest, back or groin area or a pulsating mass in the abdomen.

This pain may be severe or dull and its occurrence is often associated with the impending rupture of the aneurysm. Acute, sudden onset of severe pain in the back and/or abdomen may represent rupture, presenting a life-threatening medical emergency.

Also, to be proactive about your vascular care, you should reach out to your doctor if you have increased smoking because it will be important to have an abdominal ultrasound to assess your risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Treating Abdominal Aneurysm

UChicago Medicine offers a full range of procedures to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms. In many cases, our surgeons can offer minimally invasive (endovascular techniques) procedures that provide several benefits over traditional, open surgery. These include a shorter hospital stay, less pain, a quicker recovery and minimal scarring.

Treatment options for an aortic aneurysm may include one or more of the following:

  • Controlling or modifying risk factors: Quitting smoking, controlling blood sugar if diabetic, losing weight if overweight or obese and controlling dietary fat intake may all help slow the progression of the aneurysm
  • Observation: Routine ultrasound, CT or MRI procedures to monitor the size and rate of growth of the aneurysm
  • Medication: Control factors such as hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fats in the blood) and/or high blood pressure
  • Open Aneurysm Repair: Replacement of the diseased area of the aorta with a fabric graft
  • Endovascular Aneurysm Repair: A minimally invasive alternative to the open repair