NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Abdominal aortic aneurysm is a life-threatening condition that affects more than 3 million Americans annually and can kill up to 90% of people who have it, but it's almost completely curable if treated in time.
It's a potentially deadly ballooning of the body's largest artery. If it ruptures, it means almost certain death, yet it has almost no symptoms, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports.
The good news is you can get screened for AAA for free.
"I went to one of my physicals and I had a little blow-up on my arteries. It was very little but they told me to keep a look on it," patient John Hagemeyer said.
That so-called "little blow-up" was actually early AAA that Hagemeyer ignored for almost three years.
"So I got my aneurysm checked again and it was all blown up, like a balloon, it was ready to kind of explode," he said.
Vascular surgeon Dr. Allen Conway at Lenox Hill Hospital explained that the risk for aneurysms to "explode" goes up with size.
If it ruptures, Conway says "about 90% of people don't even make it to the hospital. If you make it to the hospital, then your chance of dying is about 30-40%."
If an AAA like Hagemeyer's is found, the solution used to be major surgery to open the abdomen, cut out the aneurysm and replace it with an artificial graft, a risky procedure at best. Now there's a much better alternative.
Conway says 80-90% of the aneurysms can be fixed with endovascular surgery, a minimally invasive surgery.
Through a small incision in the groin, a flexible stent is threaded into the aneurysm and opened up inside the aorta, diverting the blood flow through the stent so that the aneurysm isn't exposed to the high pressure in the artery.
But you have to find the aneurysm before it can rupture and since they rarely cause any symptoms at all, the key is screening. A simple ultrasound can visualize the abdominal aorta and check for an aneurysm.
Conway says men over the age of 65, smokers and anyone who has a family history of aneurysms should be screened.
Lenox Hill Hospital, in conjunction with Aneurysm Outreach, will be holding a free screening for AAA on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at their location in Greenwich Village. They prefer that you pre-register. Click here to learn more.
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