Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Written by Dr Claudia Pastides, 20th June 2019

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a swelling of the aorta. The aorta is a large blood vessel that travels downwards through your chest and abdomen, taking blood from the heart towards the rest of the body.

This swelling in the aorta usually causes no symptoms and is found often by accident whilst people are having a scan for another reason.

AAA’s are potentially life threatening and must be followed up regularly because if they continue to swell they can leak or even burst.

Fortunately in the UK men aged 65 are offered to attend for an ultrasound scan that will screen them for AAA.

Causes

It isn’t clear exactly what causes an AAA to form, but there are some links with the build-up of fatty deposits in arteries.

Risk factors

  • Being male
  • Aged over 65
  • Family history of AAA
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Being overweight
Typical Symptoms

Often an AAA is only slightly enlarged and causes no symptoms. The problem is that the swelling can increase over time, leading to internal leaking of blood and sometimes to the aneurysm bursting, which is an emergency situation.

Symptoms of an AAA include:

  • Large pulsation in the abdomen (in slim people it is normal to feel the pulsation of your aorta in your abdomen, but if you are concerned about it, especially if you have risk factors for AAA, speak to a GP)
  • Tummy pains
  • Lower back pains
Common Treatment

Treatment depends on the size of the AAA. Usually once diagnosed an AAA is followed up with regular repeat scans. Sometimes surgery is needed.

When to speak to a doctor

Concerns around AAA symptoms or screening.can often be initially dealt with via a digital consultation. If the GP decides you need a face to face appointment, they will discuss what steps you can take next. To speak to one of our Babylon GPs, download the app and create an account today.

AAA’s become a medical emergency if they are leaking or burst. Symptoms of this include:

  • Sudden severe abdominal pain, back or lower back
  • Feeling breathless, cold, clammy and sweaty
  • Losing consciousness

If someone has the above symptoms, it is important to call 999 straight away.

Prevention

AAA’s can be managed and prevented by:

  • Following a healthy lifestyle
  • Not smoking
  • Attending AAA screening

More information

British Heart Foundation - https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/abdominal-aortic-aneurysm

Please note that this material is for general information only and should never be used as a substitute for personalised medical advice provided during a consultation with a doctor.