Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm – An Explanation

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm? It occurs if the wall of your aorta – the main blood vessel that supplies blood to your body – gets weak and starts to expand. The condition can be extremely serious. Screening can help to find an aneurysm early so that it can be either monitored or treated.

An aneurysm can take 30 to 40 years to develop. This means that the risk lies amongst those of us who are approaching the autumn of our lives. It affects 6 times more males than females. The chance of having an AAA can increase if:

  1. You are or have ever been a smoker
  2. You have high blood pressure
  3. Your brother, sister or parent has, or has had, an abdominal aortic aneurysm

 Large aneurysms are rare but can be very serious. As the wall of the aorta stretches it becomes weaker and can burst, causing internal bleeding. 85 people out of 100 die when an aneurysm bursts. There are usually no symptoms if you have an aneurysm as no pain is felt.

There is a national programme within the NHS in England to screen all men over the age of 65.

The process is totally pain-free and involves an ultrasound scan of the abdomen. A cold gel is applied to the skin and the examination takes only a few minutes with the aid of a spherical scanning sensor linked to a computer monitor. The results are available immediately. 1 in every 92 men who are screened will be found to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

If the aorta is under 3cms it is considered small and of no interest. No further examinations will be required during the patient’s lifetime. I was fortunate insofar as my aorta is only 1.4cms. If the aorta is above 3cms it will have to be monitored through regular scanning. If it is considered to be large, surgery may be required. 41 out of every 10,000 men screened will eventually have surgery to repair an aneurysm. On average 1 of these 41 will not survive the procedure.

Screening does not remove the risk of an aneurysm bursting but is the best protection against this condition.  If left untreated an aneurysm which bursts will, inevitably, prove fatal.

If you have a friend, colleague or relative who has recently turned 65, please use your powers of persuasion to get them to apply for screening. It could prove to be a lifesaver.

Stuart Band