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About Vascular Disease

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is called the abdominal aorta as it passes through the abdominal cavity. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs when the walls of the aorta weaken and become dilated or enlarged. When an abdominal aortic aneurysm becomes critically enlarged (greater than 5 cm or about 2 inches) the risk of rupture increases. Unfortunately, abdominal aortic aneurysms may not produce symptoms as they enlarge. If a AAA ruptures the chances of survival is low with 80 to 90% of all ruptured aneurysms resulting in death. These deaths can be prevented if an aneurysm is detected and treated before it ruptures.


An AAA is most commonly caused by a vascular disease called atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”. A number of risk factors are associated with developing AAA including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tobacco use
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Family history of vascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Male gender

Your risk of developing AAA can be reduced by modifying or controlling your risk factors through lifestyle changes and behavior changes.

  • AAA affects 5-7% of people over the age of 60
  • Males are five times more likely to have AAA than women
  • AAA is the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S. accounting for approximately 15,000 deaths each year
  • Those at highest risk for AAA are males over the age of 60 who have a history of smoking or a history of atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries “

Unfortunately, AAA can develop and enlarge for years without signs or symptoms until the aorta is dangerously enlarged. Symptoms can include:

  • severe, intense or sudden back or abdominal pain
  • fast pulse or heart beat
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weakness and shock

AAA can be difficult to detect by physical examination even if the aorta is dangerously enlarged. Often AAA is detected incidentally by a medical imaging test. AAA can easily be detected by SafeHeart Health Screens ultrasound screening tests even at an early stage.