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Detecting An Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a dangerous ballooning or bulge in the aorta that is diagnosed in about 200,000 people each year in the United States, and kills about 15,000 per year.

The aorta is the main blood vessel in the body. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains an aneurysm forms when the wall of the aorta weakens and swells outward. If an aortic aneurysm bursts, it can kill instantly.

If it's caught early, surgeons can fix the problem. Unfortunately for many people, the problem isn't discovered until it's too late.

The problem is that someone with an aortic aneurysm doesn't have any pain or outward symptoms until something disastrous has occurred. The majority of patients who sustain a rupture or a leakage die.

There is really no screening routine for aortic aneurysms. The physical exam, in which a doctor palpitates the abdomen to detect an aortic aneurysm, is not that easy to do. In many cases, aortic aneurysms are discovered in screenings for other problems. Part of the reason that screening isn't more widespread is that the health care costs for the country would add up quickly if everyone was tested outinely. But a lot of people think it's time for screening recommendations for aortic aneurysm, especially for high-risk individuals.

Aortic aneurysm is more common in men than women. Risk groups include:

  • Men over 65

  • Men over 50 who smoke
  • Men and women with family history of both aortic aneurysms and also cerebral or bain aneurysms
  • People with high blood pressure and existing vascular disease
  • People who have some rare diseases of the connective tissue are also at higher risk of an aortic aneurysm

If you fall into any of these categories you should let your doctor know. A physical exam or an ultrasound is usually the way that a doctor can detect an aortic aneurysm.

If a doctor discovers an aortic aneurysm, you will need surgery to fix it. And you'll need it fairly quickly because an aneurysm can burst at any time. There are also some newer non-invasive surgeries that don't require as much time in the hospital.