Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are serious medical conditions that may lead to injury or sudden death. This article summarizes symptoms, causes, and treatment options of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

Summary

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are serious medical conditions in which the major arterial (oxygenated) blood vessel in the body develops an outpouching from high pressure and weakening over time. This condition if left untreated can lead to sudden death or the need for life-altering surgery.

Recommended care

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Symptoms

Main symptoms

Depending on the location, an abdominal aneurysm can cause many different types of symptoms.

  • Difficulty or painful swallowing: Aneurysms in the chest can push backward on the esophagus which sits behind the heart.
  • Difficulty breathing: An aneurysm that sits high in the aorta can press on the trachea blocking breathing.
  • Loss of appetite: An aneurysm pressing on the stomach can limit the amount of food it can hold limiting appetite.
  • Throbbing in the abdomen: Throbbing in the abdomen is a sign that a severe and advanced aortic aneurysm may be present and should be treated immediately.
  • Dizziness: Aneurysms can lead to dizziness if they stop blood from flowing toward the brain leading to a lack of oxygen.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Causes

The primary causes of abdominal aortic aneurysms are behaviors and the use of drugs that either make blood vessels weaker or place more strain on blood vessels.

  • Drugs: Drugs that cause an elevated heart rate like cocaine are common causes of aneurysms if used regularly.
  • High cholesterol diet: Diets high in cholesterol can contribute to the weakening of the blood vessels walls, allowing them to balloon out and develop plaque that is prone to rupture.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure due to diet, stress, or both can also contribute significantly to the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms by causing an outpouching of an already weak vessel.

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Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Treatment

Treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm largely depends on the size of the aneurysm. Small aneurysms can be managed with medicine or lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of them growing or eventually rupturing, which can be fatal. This means that high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease should be managed to lower the chance of rupture. Large aneurysms already have a high chance of rupture, as do aneurysms that are rapidly growing in size. In those settings, surgery may be necessary to limit the risk of an abdominal aneurysm.

  • Behavioral changes: The same changes that can prevent the development of an abdominal aortic aneurysm can also prevent the growth of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. These changes involve limiting actions that increase blood pressure like stress and diet and quitting smoking.
  • Medicines: Certain medicines can slow the growth of abdominal aortic aneurysms by reducing clotting, blood pressure, or cholesterol. These medications include aspirin, certain blood pressure medications called Angiotensin Converting Enzymes (ACEs) and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs).
  • Surgical repair: If an aneurysm is especially large or grows especially fast it may be too dangerous to treat without surgery. In those cases, it must be repaired surgically. The surgeon will help you select either an open surgery in which a large incision in the abdomen or chest is made and the aneurysm is removed and replaced with a graft or an endovascular repair is attempted in which the aneurysm is repaired from the inside out.

Prevention

The best way to prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm is to prevent the risk factors that lead to the development of an aortic aneurysm. This may involve the use of screening or check-ups to see if an aneurysm is developing if you’re a high-risk individual, or it may involve the use of behavior changes to minimize risk factors for the development of aneurysms.

  • Screening: CT, MRI, or echocardiography are all occasionally used to image the abdominal aorta in search of aneurysms.
  • Behavioral change: Avoid drugs or substances that lead to increased blood pressure, like cocaine, eat foods that are healthy for your heart, manage your stress, and most importantly, quit smoking.

When to Seek Further Consultation for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

If you are experiencing dizziness, nausea, chest pain, belly pain, numbness, weakness, loss of consciousness, or shortness of breath you should seek medical evaluation. If you have a family history of abdominal aneurysms or if you have ever been told you have an abdominal aneurysm, you should maintain close follow-up with your primary care provider or cardiologist.

References

  1. Aortic Aneurysm. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Link