The abdominal aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. About the diameter of a garden hose, this artery extends from the heart down through the chest and abdominal region, where it divides into blood vessels that supply each leg. An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the wall of the aorta caused by weakening of the vessel wall. As the lining gets weaker, primarily due to age and other risk factors, the vessel wall becomes thinner and expands like a balloon. Although an aneurysm can develop anywhere along your aorta, most occur in the section running through your abdomen (abdominal aneurysms).
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Most people with an AAA have no symptoms. Aortic aneurysms are serious because they can leak or rupture and cause catastrophic bleeding which is fatal 80% of the time. If an AAA starts to leak, you may feel pain in your back, stomach, buttocks, groin, or leg. Most people with an AAA present no warning signs. Therefore, a preventive ultrasound screening may identify this life threatening health problem early enough for your physician to take corrective action.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are rare in people under the age of 60. About one person in 1000 develops an abdominal aortic aneurysm between the ages of 60 and 65, and this number continues to rise with age.
In addition to age, a number of other factors may increase a person’s risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm:
Each year, approximately 15,000 Americans die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. When detected in time, an aortic aneurysm can usually be repaired. Because most people with an AAA have no warning signs, a preventative ultrasound screening may identify this life threatening health problem early enough for your physician to take corrective action. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) by ultrasonography in men age 65 to 75 years who have ever smoked.
A screening ultrasound of the aorta is a fast, painless, and non-invasive way of evaluating your abdominal aorta for an aneurysm. Ultrasound imaging uses no radiation.
You are usually positioned face-up on the examination table. The sonographer will then spread some warm gel on your skin and press the transducer firmly against your body, moving it back and forth over the area of interest until the desired images are obtained. You may actually hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured. Once the imaging is complete, the gel will be wiped off your skin. After an ultrasound exam, you should be able to resume your normal activities immediately.
No preparation is necessary in advance. You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam. You will need to remove all clothing and jewelry in the area to be examined. You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure.
The images will be analyzed by a radiologist, who is a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret imaging examinations. A report will be sent to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is covered for at-risk individuals by Medicare and most other insurance providers. Please check with your provider to see if you are covered for this screening examination.
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