What Is An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm And Who Should Get Tested For It?

You're likely aware of how vital it is to take good care of your heart, as the heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. The heart performs a number of remarkable tasks, like pumping blood throughout your entire body and keeping you alive.

As illustrated by the American Heart Association (AHA), the aorta is the main artery that supplies blood from the heart as it travels to the rest of the body. Because it's such an integral blood vessel, problems affecting the aorta can be life-threatening. An aortic aneurysm occurs when an area of the aorta begins to bulge. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics showed that aortic aneurysms were responsible for the deaths of approximately 10,000 Americans in 2018, as reported by the AHA. 

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a ballooned area that is located in the lower region of the aorta, explains the Mayo Clinic. Due to their tendency to grow gradually without observable symptoms, they can be tricky to spot. There are some that remain small, while others may grow rapidly.

Per Mayo Clinic, some symptoms that someone might notice are back pain, a deep and constant pain in the stomach or abdomen, and pulsing sensations near the belly button. If you're experiencing pain of this nature, particularly if it's severe and sudden, seek medical attention immediately. Some individuals may be at greater risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, so it's also important to keep these characteristics in mind.

Who should keep a closer eye out for one?

It turns out that the risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm is higher among men, and it's especially prevalent in those who smoke. It was reported by the AHA that 58% of people who died from an aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection in 2018 were males, and 75% of people with abdominal aortic aneurysms had smoked in the past. Moreover, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflamed arteries can affect a person's blood vessels and artery walls, which could also put them at an increased risk for an aortic aneurysm.

For men between 65 and 75 years old who have a history of smoking, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a one-time ultrasound screening. As explained by the AHA, it's still a good idea to screen even in the absence of any symptoms. Moreover, the USPSTF suggests that clinicians and male patients ages 65 to 75 who have never smoked carefully consider family history and other potential risk factors before considering ultrasound screening.

For women who have never smoked and have no family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms, routine screening isn't recommended. Research on the advantages and disadvantages of routine screening for women between 65 and 75 who have smoked or have a family history of the condition has not yet been conclusive.