AAA – A Silent Killer

AAA – A Silent Killer

aaa_silent_killerDear Dr. Levister: My partner of 22 years died of complications from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He smoked cigarettes but was generally healthy. Can smoking cause this disease? A.S.

Dear A.S.: Yes, in fact this silent killer is the leading cause of death in older men. Smokers and those with a family history need to be checked for abdominal aortic aneurysms, known as AAA.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a dilation (ballooning) of part of the aorta that is within the abdomen. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) usually causes no symptoms unless it ruptures (bursts). A ruptured AAA is often fatal. An AAA less than 55 mm wide has a low chance of rupture. An operation to repair the aneurysm may be advised if it is larger than 55 mm, as above this size the risk of rupture increases significantly. Men aged 65 and over are to be offered a routine scan to screen for AAA.

The aorta is the largest artery (blood vessel) in the body. It carries blood from the heart and descends through the chest and the abdomen. Many arteries come off the aorta to supply blood to all parts of the body. At about the level of the pelvis the aorta divides into two arteries, one going to each leg.

An aneurysm is where a section of an artery widens (balloons out). The wall of an aneurysm is weaker than a normal artery wall. The pressure of the blood inside the artery causes the weaker section of wall to balloon.

Though doctors aren’t sure why, AAAs are four times more common in men than in women. While AAAs can lead to death, screenings are available to detect the disease before it’s too late.

Until recently treatment required surgeons to replace the weakened artery through a complicated procedure that resulted in a week’s hospitalization and six to eight weeks’ recovery.

Now a new technology called the Cook Zenith endovascular aortic repair (EVAR) procedure makes the treatment much simpler and less invasive.

The surgery is often done under a local anesthetic, recovery takes about five days.

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