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What is an Abdominal Aneurysm?

An abdominal aneurysm occurs when the abdominal aorta, the blood vessel that provides blood to the legs, pelvis, and abdomen, bulges or expands. The condition most often affects males who are 60 years and older. If the aneurysm ruptures and is left untreated, the result leads to shock or even death.

This type of aneurysm can cause another serious health condition called embolization. Embolization occurs when blood clots within the aneurysm move toward blood vessels that connect to other organs within the body. If the blood vessels become blocked because of clots or other debris, the person experiences severe pain and may even suffer the loss of a limb.

Smokers, obese people, and those with high cholesterol are at risk for developing an abdominal aneurysm. Patients with high blood pressure and emphysema can develop an abdominal aneurysm as well. Those with family histories that include this type of aneurysm are also at risk for the condition.

An abdominal aneurysm may take years to completely develop, but symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, elevated heart rate when in a standing position, and anxiety. Patients may experience a rigid abdomen or a pulsing within the abdomen. The skin might feel clammy as well.

Doctors can perform various tests in order to determine if a patient has an abdominal aneurysm, even if no symptoms are present. A computed tomography (CT) scan, an ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are standard tests performed on patients when the physician suspects that an abdominal aneurysm is present. Many times, the physician is able to feel the presence of a pulsing mass within the stomach, a classic sign that an aneurysm has developed.

If it is determined that the patient has an aneurysm in the abdominal area that is no more than 2 inches (5.08 cm.), the physician may monitor the patient's medical condition every six months to a year. This will ensure that the aneurysm does not increase in size. During this period of time, the doctor will prescribe medication or advise patients on how to change to a healthier lifestyle.

For example, smokers will be instructed to quit smoking, obese patients will be encouraged to lose weight, and high blood pressure patients will be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure. Regular visits with the doctor are imperative in order to monitor the size of the aneurysm. This is because there is always the chance that the aneurysm can increase in size and rupture.

In some cases, the physician will determine that the patient requires emergency surgery. If the aneurysm measures more than 2 inches (5.08 cm.) or the patient is experiencing symptoms, the patient will be scheduled for an aneurysm repair. In this particular procedure, the doctor places a plastic tube in the damaged section of the aorta in order to strengthen it. This tube permits blood to easily flow through.

Another way to repair the aneurysm is through a surgery called endovascular stent graft. During this procedure, catheters are placed throughout the blood vessels. A tube called an endovascular stent graft is guided to the aneurysm area.

This graft serves to strengthen the aorta. An endovascular stent graft procedure is useful only for some patients whose aneurysm is the right shape for the graft. Other patients will need to have the more invasive aneurysm repair surgery.

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