What are Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are blood-filled balloon-like bulges that grow slowly over time. AAA’s in particular, happen in a part of your aorta that runs through your abdomen. The aorta is the largest artery in your body. Its primary function is carrying blood away from your heart and toward the rest of your body. Once an aneurysm has formed, it will gradually increase and progressively grow weaker. An aneurysm can occur anywhere in the aorta, but most often happens in the abdomen (belly).

Seeking Treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Symptoms of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

Dr. Adam Richter, one of our vascular surgeons, says that “most abdominal aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic.” In other words, they may not show any symptoms.

In fact, AAAs are often found during an evaluation for another medical condition. As the aneurysm grows, you may experience abdominal pain, lower back pain, or a pulsing feeling near your belly button. If you are experiencing similar pain, especially if the pain is sudden and severe, seek medical attention immediately.

When symptoms of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm do occur, they may include:

  • A pulsating feeling in your abdomen
  • Pain in your back, abdomen, or groin
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling in your legs or abdomen


Diagnosing AAA

Since AAA can be hard to notice, doctors usually find that abdominal ultrasounds yield the best results when diagnosing AAA. However, before doing an ultrasound, your doctor will look for pulsing sensations in your abdomen. During an exam, your doctor can also listen for irregular blood flow. In addition, your doctor can confirm AAA’s through CT scans and MRIs.

Ways to diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • An ultrasound to look at the size and shape of your aorta
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan to get a more detailed picture of your aorta
  • A magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) to create a detailed picture of the inside of your aorta
  • An arteriogram, which is an x-ray of the arteries after dye is injected into them, to see if you have an aneurysm

How Are AAA’s Treated?

The size of your abdominal aneurysm greatly affects your treatment plan. For instance, the goal for patients with smaller aneurysms is to prevent ruptures through monitoring and surgery. On the other hand, if you have a larger aneurysm surgery will be the go-to treatment. Surgery options include abdominal and vascular surgery in order to strengthen the aorta. As you seek treatment, your healthcare provider will help you understand the risks of surgery before deciding on the best treatment option. Should an abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture, it will cause severe internal bleeding. Because the aorta moves so much blood, a ruptured aneurysm can be life-threatening. Hence, it is essential that you work closely with your doctor to seek the right treatment.


Who Can Develop AAAs?

If you want to prevent an aortic aneurysm, you should understand what increases your risk of developing an aortic aneurysm. There are multiple risk factors for AAA which include:

  • Heavy smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Traumatic Injury

Additional factors include family history, age, and gender. In particular, aneurysms occur most often in people who are age 65 or older. In terms of gender, men are at a greater risk of developing AAA than women. Pregnancy is another risk for developing AAA.

If pregnancy is in your future and you’re worried about developing AAA, you should consult with your doctor. If you do develop an aneurysm, you will need treatment from a specialist.


Because AAA’s are a progressive disease, adjustments to your lifestyle are the most effective form of prevention. If you are committed to preventing AAA’s, we encourage you to use the following steps:

  • Step 1: Quit smoking. Smoking damages many parts of your body, including your lungs and veins.
  • Step 2: Maintain a healthy diet. At best, avoid saturated fat, trans fats, and limit salt intake.
  • Step 3: Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
  • Step 4: Exercise regularly. If you have trouble staying active, talk to your doctor about what activities best suit you.

Additionally, these preventative steps will reduce your risk of developing other vascular health problems. For instance, you will decrease the risk of developing peripheral arterial disease, varicose veins, spider veins, and other vascular diseases. You should visit with a professional if you’re at risk for or think you have an AAA. Book an appointment with a vascular surgeon at one of our many office locations throughout Middle Tennessee. Our clinic locations in Nashville, Brentwood, and Franklin are experienced in heart health evaluations and identifying heart disease.

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