The acronym AAA is short for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. If you think that sounds serious, you’re right. An aneurysm is a medical term used to describe a dilation or widening of an artery or blood vessel. Add the word “aortic” and you’re talking about a major coronary artery–the one that leaves the heart to supply blood to your body. The type of aortic aneurysm we’re talking about here is in the part of the aorta that runs through the abdomen. If it’s not detected and repaired, it can be fatal.
You may recall that several years ago, NBA player Jeff Green was diagnosed with this condition. It was discovered during a routine physical performed while he was playing for the Boston Celtics. Needless to say, his career took an immediate backseat to undergoing surgery to repair the aneurysm and save his life.
Who’s at Risk
As Jeff Green’s case shows, an aneurysm of this type can happen to anyone, though it is rare for them to occur to younger patients. They are usually found in older patients who have hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension increases the force of the blood sent from the heart against the walls of the aorta. This combined with the gradual breakdown of the protein and fibers in the walls of the aorta can cause a weak spot to develop. When that happens, the area can balloon out sort of in the same way a weak spot in a tire tends to balloon out.
Symptoms of an AAA
Some people experience no symptoms at all. When symptoms do arise, they can include
- Intense abdominal or back pain
- A rapid pulse
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
Screening for an AAA
What is a AAA screening? It is a painless, non-invasive procedure.You will lay on your back while a technician uses ultrasound equipment to take images and measurements of your abdominal aorta.
You will eat a light meal the day of the test and then fast for 4 hours before your scheduled appointment. If you’re thirsty during the fasting period, it’s okay to drink water in moderation.
Who Needs an AAA Screening
If you’re over 60, ask your doctor about AAA screening. The same applies if you have any of the following risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- You’re a male (Males have a higher risk of developing an AAA).