What is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA or triple-A) is a medical condition in which the part of the aorta that runs through the abdomen begins to weaken and bulge. It can be a very serious medical problem, as the aneurysm may be at risk of rupturing, causing severe internal bleeding which can lead to death. Treatment approaches to an abdominal aortic aneurysm vary, depending on the patient's condition and the size of the aneurysm.

The aorta is the body's largest artery. It runs from the heart to an area just above the pelvis, supplying blood along the way before it splits into two smaller arteries which supply blood to the legs. This artery is critical, as it brings blood to and from the heart, and a rupture or blockage in the aorta can be quickly fatal. If nothing else, bleeding out from the aorta can cause severe blood loss which leads to death in a matter of minutes.


Doctors are not quite certain about why this condition develops in some people, although age and smoking appear to be risk factors for developing a triple-A. Although the cause is not known, the mechanism is. In a patient with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the walls of the aorta weaken, causing it to bulge out like a balloon. If the walls weaken enough, the aorta can rupture. The condition can also lead to an embolism, in which clots travel along the aorta, causing potentially serious medical problems including cardiac events.

Patients with an abdominal aortic aneurysm usually experience abdominal pain and rigidity along with a pulsing sensation. Discoloration of the feet may also occur as the supply of blood to the legs is interrupted or clotted. The condition can be diagnosed with a medical imaging study such as an MRI or ultrasound, at which time the size of the aneurysm can be determined.

For a patient with a small aneurysm, the doctor may decide to wait and see what develops. The patient will need to come in for regular tests to monitor the AAA, making sure that it has not grown or changed. The patient may also need to make diet and lifestyle changes to keep the abdominal aortic aneurysm under control. In patients with large aneurysms, the treatment is surgery to repair the aneurysm, and it can be accompanied with a lengthy recovery time. The surgery also carries some risk, including the risk of rupturing the aneurysm.



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