What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?
The aorta is the largest artery in your body, and it carries oxygen-rich blood pumped out of, or away from, your heart. Your aorta runs through your chest, where it is called the thoracic aorta. When it reaches your abdomen, it is called the abdominal aorta. The abdominal aorta supplies blood to the lower part of the body. In the abdomen, just below the navel, the aorta splits into two branches, called the iliac arteries, that carry blood into each leg.
When a weak area of the abdominal aorta expands or bulges, it is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). The pressure from blood flowing through your abdominal aorta can cause a weakened part of the aorta to bulge, much like a balloon. A normal aorta is about 1 inch (or about 2 centimeters) in diameter. However, an AAA can stretch the aorta beyond its safety margin as it expands. Aneurysms are a health risk because they can burst or rupture. A ruptured aneurysm can cause severe internal bleeding, which can lead to shock or even death.
Each year, physicians diagnose approximately 200,000 people in the United States with AAA. Of those 200,000, nearly 15,000 may have an AAA threatening enough to cause death from its rupture if not treated.
Fortunately, especially when diagnosed early before it causes symptoms, an AAA can be treated, or even cured, with highly effective and safe treatments.
Medicare covers a onetime AAA ultrasound with a physician referral for patients at risk.
What are the indications that an abdominal vascular evaluation is needed?
- Being a man older than 65
- Having an immediate relative who has had an AAA
- Having high blood pressure
- Smoking or having previously smoked more than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime
- Your risk of developing AAA increases as you age. AAA is more common in men than in women
- Known aneurysm of the arteries of the legs
- Possible aneurysm previously visible on an x-ray or MRI of the lower back
What are the symptoms of an AAA?
Although you may initially not feel any symptoms with an AAA, if you develop symptoms, you may experience one or more of the following:
- A pulsing feeling in your abdomen, similar to a heartbeat
- Pain in your abdomen or lower back
- On rare occasions, you may develop pain, discoloration, or sores on the toes or feet because of material from the aneurysm
What can I expect during the exam?
A complete examination of the aorta and iliac arteries is approximately 30 to 45 minutes long. It is performed in a private room, lying on an exam table. Images of the arteries will be taken using the ultrasound equipment. A transducer is placed on the skin with a small amount of water soluble ultrasound gel.
- Allow 30 to 45 minutes for the abdominal vascular examination.
- No smoking for 1 hour prior to the exam, as it can create a constriction of your arteries and increase abdominal gas.
- Fast for at least 8 hours before the exam, to limit any excess bowel gas that may otherwise restrict the physician’s view.
- Unless otherwise specified, take your usual medications with a small amount of water.
- We typically schedule this exam as an early morning appointment.
Please call us with any questions or to schedule an appointment for a Fort Myers abdominal aorta exam: (239) 694-8346