An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is when the lower part of the aorta becomes enlarged, like a balloon. The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It carries blood from the heart down along the backbone where it splits into many smaller arteries that bring blood to all of the organs. Aneurysm is a general term that describes an enlargement of any blood vessel in the body. Aneurysms usually develop slowly over time and may not cause problems until they become so enlarged that they can rupture.
Smaller AAAs generally do not cause symptoms. Larger AAAs can cause symptoms such as a pulsating feeling near the belly button, deep and constant abdominal pain, or back pain. Rupture of an aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency. If an aortic aneurysm ruptures, symptoms include vomiting, intense pain, excessive sweating, a drop in blood pressure, fainting, and shortness of breath.
AAAs can be caused by stiffening of the artery walls due to plaque build up (atherosclerosis), infection of the aorta, or connective tissue diseases. Risk factors for the development of AAAs are increased in individuals who smoke, are male, or have a family history of aneurysms.
A doctor can perform many tests to diagnose this condition. Possible tests include imaging by abdominal ultrasound, chest X-ray, and MRI. Treatment options will vary depending on the size of the aneurysm. For smaller aneurysms, it may be better to wait and watch before seeking surgery. For larger aneurysms that are at risk of rupturing, surgery is usually the best treatment. Talk to your doctor about which of the current treatment options is right for you.