This Aneurysm Screening Could Save Your Life
When people think of aneurysms, they often associate them with a horrible headache that can lead to certain sudden death. But if you are male, smoke or have a history of aneurysms in your family, you may be at risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
What are Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms?
Aneurysms develop when the wall of blood vessels in major arteries become damaged or weakened. Over time, this can develop into a bulge in the vessel – creating the aneurysm.
Many people can develop an aneurysm over years but have no idea they have one until it is discovered through an aneurysm screening or when it ruptures. When an aneurysm ruptures, you must be aware of the symptoms and act fast to avoid internal bleeding and death.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms develop in the abdominal aorta, a large artery in the abdomen that carries blood from the heart to other parts of your body. The screening for this aneurysm is a simple ultrasound that checks the width of the abdominal aorta. According to Timothy Nypaver, M.D., a vascular surgeon at Henry Ford Health System, even the smallest changes in the size of this artery can be life-threatening.
“Typically, the abdominal aorta is about 2.5 centimeters wide,” says Dr. Nypaver. “It is considered an aneurysm when it reaches 3 centimeters, and if it gets up to 5 centimeters, we may consider an operation to prevent rupturing.”
To operate on aneurysms, surgeons use a minimally-invasive procedure called endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR). In this operation, doctors make small incisions in the groin and insert a special tube called an endograft through the blood vessel affected by the aneurysm. This eliminates pressure on the aneurysm, so it no longer has risk of rupturing. If ruptured, this procedure can stop the bleeding by redirecting blood flow through the endograft.
If you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, be proactive about your health by:
- Going to regular checkups to monitor aneurysm growth or other related health conditions
- Stop smoking (if you currently do)
- Live a healthy lifestyle by eating right and staying active
- Talk to your doctor about your options for an endograft
The Importance of Aneurysm Screenings
According to Dr. Nypaver, the best way to prevent a ruptured aneurysm is to have a screening around the age of 60. “Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the tenth leading cause of death in men,” he says. “There really is no way of knowing you have an aneurysm without a screening.”
While these aneurysms are more common in men and those who smoke, you should also consider getting an aneurysm screening if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease or coronary artery disease
- A family history of aneurysms
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If you think someone may be experiencing a ruptured aneurysm, call 911. When an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures, it is typically characterized by:
- Sharp, intense abdominal or back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shock and confusion
“If it has ruptured, there is a very high mortality rate of patients before they make it to the hospital,” says Dr. Nypaver. “That is why regular screenings and elective repair are so important.”
Talk to your primary care doctor to see if you should get an aneurysm screening, or about any other health screenings that may be recommended for your age, sex, health status and other risk factors.
Dr. Timothy Nypaver is a vascular surgeon and the head of the Division of Vascular Surgery for Henry Ford Hospital. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital.