Trauma Survivors Network - provided by ATS

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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

Definition and Overview

An aortic aneurysm represents a concerning condition that can lead to very serious illness or even death.

The term abdominal aortic aneurysm is used to describe a stretching of the main artery feeding blood to the abdomen the abdominal aorta. This stretching and destruction of the wall, if severe enough, can lead to rupture of the vessel with extremely serious consequences for the sufferer. 

The normal aorta has a diameter of about 2 cm. Small aneurysms are around 3 cm and large ones can be 5 cm or greater. The large aneurysms are most likely to rupture and lead to very serious complications.

Diagnosis of the AAA as well as its size can be made by skilled investigation of the abdomen, CT scan, MRI, and angiogram. Treatment of small aneurysms is conservative meaning that they will be followed by a physician and encouraged to make lifestyle changes to decrease the risk of continued weakening. In large or fast growing aneurysms surgery is often necessary. If the aneurysm is repaired before it ruptures the prognosis of the patient is good. A dissection, or ruptured aneurysm, is a medical emergency and death can occur in anywhere from 50-90% of the cases due to severe bleeding.

The abdominal aorta is a large blood vessel that carries blood to the body below the diaphragm. It travels down the back of the abdomen just in front of and to the left of the vertebral column, and provides organs of the abdomen with blood as well as the genitalia and legs.