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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA)

Aortic aneurysms most commonly occur in the part of the aorta that runs through the abdomen. A variety of factors may contribute to the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms, including:

  • Age 60 and older
  • Male gender
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of aneurysms

Aortic aneurysms account for as many as 15,000 deaths per year in the United States. If you have any of the above risk factors, regular screening can lead to early diagnosis and life-saving treatment.

Signs & Symptoms | Screening & Diagnosis | Treatment Options

Signs and Symptoms

The often silent progression of this condition makes it particularly life-threatening. Abdominal aortic aneurysms typically grow slowly over time often with little to no symptoms. Most patients do not know they have any aneurysm, with many discovered incidentally during a physical exam or diagnostic imaging test for other conditions. As the aneurysm enlarges, symptoms may include:

  • A pulsating feeling, almost like a heartbeat, in your abdomen
  • Severe, sudden pain in your abdomen
  • Sudden pain in the lower back

If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Screening and Diagnosis

At NorthShore, our vascular surgeons rely on their expansive clinical knowledge to accurately screen and diagnose patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms and use the latest imaging tools when necessary. During your comprehensive evaluation, one of our experienced board-certified vascular surgeons will ask you about your medical history and conduct a physical exam.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms can sometimes be felt during a routine physical examination. Your NorthShore physician expert may recommend an abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The size and location of your abdominal aortic aneurysm as well as your age and overall health will indicate the best treatment. At NorthShore, we recommend several treatment options depending on how fast and/or how large your aneurysm is growing.

  • Watchful Waiting—Aneurysms measuring about 1.6 inches (or 4 centimeters) are considered small. Active surveillance is typically recommended as the risks of surgery may be greater than “watchful waiting.” Every six to 12 months, your NorthShore specialist will monitor your aneurysm for changes in size using CT scans or ultrasounds. Given aneurysms don’t disappear once they have developed, we strongly encourage regular follow-up appointments with your vascular surgeon.
  • Minimally Invasive Endovascular Repair (EVAR procedure)—Medium to large (2 inches or 5.0 centimeters and larger) abdominal aortic aneurysms or ones that are rapidly growing or leaking will require surgical repair. Depending on the shape and location of your AAA, your NorthShore physician may recommend an EVAR (endovascular repair) procedure for your aneurysm.

    Performed in a specialized operating room with cutting-edge imaging capabilities, this innovative technique involves threading long thin tubes, or catheters, via small incisions made in the groin area, to place flexible synthetic tube-like devices called stent grafts (also known as an endografts) across the diseased aorta. These stent grafts work to essentially eliminate the aneurysm from the bloodstream. A less invasive procedure, endovascular stent graft placement features shorter hospital stays of 2 to 3 days and faster recovery when compared to open surgery.
  • Open Abdominal Surgery—A small percentage of patients will need open surgery to repair an AAA that is growing quickly and/or leaking. Your NorthShore vascular surgeon will use an artificial or synthetic graft to replace the weakened portion of your aorta. Hospital stays for open abdominal surgery typically range from 6 to 7 days and complete recovery may take from 6 weeks up to 3 months.

For More Information

Please call 847.663.8050 for more information on abdominal aortic aneurysms or to schedule an appointment with one of our vascular surgeon specialists.