An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs when a weakened area of the abdominal aorta (the largest artery in the abdomen) expands or bulges.
The exact cause of abdominal aortic aneurysms is unknown, but several factors can increase your risk of developing them, including:
- High blood pressure
- Age - the risk increases as you age
- Family history - parent or sibling with AAA
Abdominal Aortic Aneursym Care at UVM Medical Center
Diagnosing vascular problems typically begins in non-invasive diagnostic laboratory, located in the Vascular Surgery clinics at The UVM Medical Center's Main Campus. Patients are often able to see a doctor and have a non-invasive test during a single visit. The lab is staffed by registered vascular technologists — highly skilled specialists with advanced training in non-invasive vascular imaging and testing. By focusing solely on vascular problems, these technologists bring an in-depth knowledge to the diagnosis of vascular patients. Our board certified and specially trained physicians offer expert care in a personalized manner, working closely with patients and their families. We offer the latest treatments and therapies available for abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Diagnosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Abdominal aortic aneurysms have been called a "silent killer" because they often do not cause symptoms. Patients with symptoms may experience a pulsing feeling in the abdomen or an unexplained severe pain in the abdomen or lower back.
The process of diagnosis may involve the following:
- Abdominal ultrasound - This test uses sound waves to produce a video image of your vessels to check for a potential aneurysm. At We offer the abdominal ultrasound test in our non-invasive diagnostic laboratory, located in our Vascular Surgery offices.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan - A CT scan may be recommended if your aneurysm has grown to a certain size to determine if it needs to be repaired.
Treatments for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysms involves either regular monitoring or surgery. The treatment that is right for you will depend upon the size, shape, and growth patterns of your aneurysm.
- If your AAA is small, regular observation and monitoring may be all that is required. The UVM Medical Center vascular surgeons will monitor your aneurysm on a regular basis with periodic ultrasounds to detect any changes in size.
- If you have high blood pressure, blood pressure medication may be prescribed by your primary care physician to reduce pressure on the weakened area of the aorta.
- If your aneurysm is causing symptoms, is larger than 5 or 5.5 centimeters, or is found to be growing, a surgical procedure may be needed.
There are two main types of surgery to repair an AAA. These include:
- Open Repair - With an open surgical repair, your vascular surgeon will make an incision in your abdomen and replace the weakened part of your aorta with a synthetic tube-like device called a graft, which is sewn into place. The graft takes the place of the weakened part of the aorta. It allows blood to pass easily through the aorta.
- Endovascular AAA Repair -This is a less invasive procedure known as endovascular AAA repair (EVAR). With this surgery, vascular surgeons place a fabric and metal tube called a stent graft (or endograft) into the weakened aorta. The stent graft is placed through small incisions in your leg. The stent graft is guided through a catheter - a long, thin tube - and placed into the leg artery under X-ray guidance. The endovascular stent graft strengthens the weakened section of the aorta to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.
Recovery time is usually shorter than for open surgery. Hospital stays are reduced to 1 - 3 days. Long-term follow-up care is needed to monitor the stent graft. Whether or not you are a good candidate for endovascular surgery depends on the shape of your aneurysm and other factors. Your surgeon will help you decide the best method of treatment for you.