An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulging in the wall of the aorta, the major artery that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. The bulge, or aneurysm, is caused by a weakening of the artery wall. AAAs can enlarge gradually over time and become more prone to rupture, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms of an AAA can include abdominal or back pain, nausea and vomiting. Early detection is important in treating an AAA because it decreases the risk of rupture. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.
The most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a pulsating feeling or pain in the abdomen. Additional symptoms may include feeling general fatigue and a lack of energy, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, and abdominal, back, side, or groin pain. In some cases, the pain may radiate from the abdomen to the back due to the aneurysm pressing on the affected area.
The exact cause of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is not known. However, some known factors that may increase the risk of developing an AAA include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of AAA
- Age (most commonly in people over 65)
- Chronic tobacco use
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Trauma to the abdomen or aorta
- Inflammation in the lining of the aorta
- Infections of the aorta, including syphilis and tuberculosis
- Genetic syndromes, such as Marfan and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes
The risk factors for developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) include:
- Age: AAAs are more common with increasing age, rarely occurring before age 55.
- Gender: Men are five times more likely than women to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
- Genetics: Having a family history of AAAs can increase your risk.
- Smoking: Smoking is strongly associated with the development of an AAA, and is the most important modifiable risk factor.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure increases the risk of an AAA.
- High cholesterol levels: Although not as strong a risk factor as smoking, high cholesterol is linked to the development of an AAA.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to develop an AAA.
- Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, increases the risk of an AAA.
- Cardiovascular disease: People with a history of heart disease or stroke are at higher risk of an AAA.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is typically diagnosed through an ultrasound scan or CT scan. During the ultrasound scan or CT scan, the doctor will be able to see the presence of an aneurysm as an abnormal dilation of the aorta. In some cases, a doctor may also order an MRI or angiography (X-ray of the blood vessels) in order to get a more detailed view of the aorta. If an aneurysm is found, the doctor may also order a blood test to check for any signs of internal bleeding or other complications.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are divided into two primary subtypes based on the location of the aneurysm.
The first subtype is known as infrarenal AAA and it occurs below the renal arteries, which are the arteries leading from the aorta to the kidneys. Infrarenal AAAs account for about 80-90% of all abdominal aortic aneurysms. This type of aneurysm is also divided into two more subtypes based on size. Small AAAs, which are less than 3 cm in diameter, and large AAAs, which are greater than 3 cm in diameter.
The second subtype is known as suprarenal AAA and it occurs above the renal arteries. Suprarenal AAAs are less common, accounting for only 10-20% of all abdominal aortic aneurysms, but they tend to be more dangerous due to their location and their higher risk of rupture.
Treatment options for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) depend on the size and location of the aneurysm, as well as any other related conditions. The two main treatment options are surveillance and repair.
Surveillance: Asymptomatic aneurysms that are less than 5.5 cm in width usually require regular surveillance through imaging (e.g. CT, MRI, or ultrasound) to check for progression.
Repair: If the AAA is larger than 5.5 cm in width, or if it is progressing rapidly, repair may be recommended. This may include endovascular repair (or stent grafting) and open surgical repair.
Endovascular Repair: Endovascular repair involves the insertion of a tube (stent graft) through an artery in the leg and up to the aorta to reinforce the weakened vessel wall.
Open Surgical Repair: Open surgical repair involves opening the abdomen to remove the aneurysm and replace it with a graft. This is often used for larger aneurysms, aneurysms in the iliac arteries, or aneurysms with significant risk factors.
Both endovascular and open surgical repair come with risks and benefits that should be fully evaluated with a doctor before any decision is made.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a major cause of aneurysm formation, and quitting can reduce the risk.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, which can help lower the risk.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats can reduce your risk of an aneurysm.
- Manage high blood pressure: High blood pressure is a leading cause of aneurysms. Reducing your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and/or medication can reduce your risk.
- Avoid or manage high cholesterol: High cholesterol can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries, which can increase your risk of an aneurysm.
- Avoid drug and alcohol abuse: Excessive alcohol consumption and drug abuse can increase your risk of an aneurysm.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of abdominal aortic aneurysm. Generally, men tend to present with abdominal aortic aneurysms at a younger age than women and often present with larger aneurysms. Men also tend to present with more associated risk factors such as smoking and hypertension. Additionally, men tend to have more complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm such as rupture, dissection, and death from rupture.
When it comes to management, gender also plays a role. Women tend to receive more conservative treatments, such as surveillance or endovascular repair, due to their greater risk for complications. Men, on the other hand, tend to receive more aggressive treatments, such as open repair or endovascular repair, to prevent any potential complications. In addition, women tend to have better outcomes when undergoing endovascular repair than men, likely due to their lower risk of complications.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA). Certain dietary changes can help to reduce risk factors for AAA such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity. A diet high in fats and processed foods can contribute to the development of an aneurysm, as these foods can raise blood pressure and increase cholesterol levels. Therefore, individuals with AAA should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are high in fiber and can help lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, can help reduce inflammation, which can reduce the risk of an AAA. In general, individuals with AAA should focus on a balanced diet that is low in sugar, sodium, saturated fats, and processed foods, and high in healthy fats, dietary fiber, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Physical activity has been associated with reduced risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of AAA in several studies. It is believed that regular physical activity could improve arterial stiffness and decrease the risk of AAA development due to its ability to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. Additionally, regular physical activity has been found to reduce risk factors associated with AAA, such as smoking, obesity, and diabetes. Finally, regular physical activity has been linked to increased HDL levels and decreased LDL levels, which may also improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of AAA.