When the wall of a blood vessel becomes weakened, a bulge can develop. Called an aneurysm, the bulge most often occurs in the abdominal aorta. The largest blood vessel in the body, the abdominal aorta runs from the left side of the heart through the middle of the chest and abdomen to carry blood to the legs. Some AAAs don’t cause problems, however, if one grows it can eventually rupture, and become life-threatening. Abdominal aortic aneurysms do not always cause symptoms. However, when they do, these include a pulsating pain deep in the back or side, as well as, pain in the buttocks, groin and/or legs. Patients who are diagnosed with an AAA are closely monitored by their doctor. If it grows precariously large surgery will likely be necessary.
The likelihood of developing AAA increases with age, and is most prevalent in men over age 60. Diseases that weaken the heart and blood vessels also increase a person’s risk. These include high blood pressure and cholesterol and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis). Smoking is another major risk factor. People who smoke have a 3-5 times greater chance of developing AAA than non-smokers. Genetics can also play a role.
An abdominal aortic ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the aorta. While the thoracic aorta is located in your chest and can only be seen by CT or MRI, the abdominal aorta, located in the abdomen, can be seen via ultrasound. These images can help evaluate the size of the aorta and to determine if it is enlarged. During the procedure, the patient lies on the exam table with his or her shirt pulled up.. The technician will maneuver a transducer over the skin of the abdomen and take pictures for the physician to evaluate. After evaluating the images, the doctor will make recommendations for treatment. This will entail continued monitoring and either self-care measures such as quitting smoking. Medication to lower blood pressure may also be prescribed. Severe cases may require surgery to repair or replace the damaged portion of the aorta.