An elderly gentleman in his 70’s developed pain in the chest region that radiated to the navel and back. His heart was beating abnormally fast, and his hands and feet turned cold and clammy. He also had a history of chain smoking for more than 20 years. Considering the above factors, the doctor conducted an abdominal ultrasound in which the doctor found that the patient had an enlarged abdominal aortic aneurysm.
The aorta is the main blood vessel of the heart that supplies blood to the body. It runs from heart to the center of chest and abdomen. The part of aorta that supplies blood to the abdomen is called as an abdominal aorta. If the walls of the abdominal aorta, gets weakened in an area, then that weakened area in the aortic wall balloons to form a pouch, this is termed as abdominal aortic aneurysm. It can be life threatening at times.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are difficult to detect as they grow slowly without any symptoms in the initial stages of growth. Their growth rate can be around 1.2 cm per year. If they are enlarging at a faster rate, then there is a chance that the abdominal aorta may rupture. You can experience symptoms like sudden pain in the chest, abdomen, back, legs or buttocks; feeling of nausea and vomiting; stiffness in your abdominal muscles; abdominal swelling, rapid heart rate, and clammy skin.
If you are between the age group of 65 years to 75 years, and have a history of smoking or history of abdominal aortic aneurysm in the family, then you are under high risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
It has been found that cigarette smoking helps the aneurysm to grow faster. Tobacco use in any other form also causes abdominal aortic aneurysms. If you are suffering from hypertension or high blood pressure, then you are highly under the risk of developing the aneurysm as high blood pressure weakens and damages the arteries. Vasculitis is a condition in which infection occurs in the aortic wall leading to the formation of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The other reasons that lead to this aneurysm are obesity, high blood cholesterol levels, emphysema (disease of lungs), genetic factors and more in males above 60 years of age.
The doctor may advise a chest x ray to check for any problems with your aorta. An abdominal ultrasound is done in which sound waves of high frequency are used to take internal images of the abdomen that are then studied by the doctor to check for any abdominal aortic aneurysm. A CT (computerized tomography) scan can also be done that uses x rays to get cross sectional images of the abdomen. In a procedure known as Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic waves and radio waves to create images of the insides of the abdomen that are then studied by the doctor.
In case of small aneurysms that measure around 4 cms, the doctor will put you on observation. You have to report to the doctor if you have any symptoms like chest pain. Ultrasound is done every 6 months to check the growth of the aneurysm. In case of a medium sized aneurysm which measures 4 to 5.6 cms, the decision is left to the doctor whether he wants to wait and watch or go for surgery. In case of large growing aneurysms that measure more than 5.6 cms, you need to go for surgery.
In a surgical procedure known as open abdominal surgery, the section of aorta that is damaged is replaced by a graft (synthetic tube). Recovery after the surgery takes several months. To repair the aneurysm, endovascular surgery is done in which a synthetic graft is sent to the aneurysm site with the help of a catheter (thin tube) via the artery of your leg. This graft is fixed at the site of aneurysm with help of pins and hooks. The graft prevents rupture of aorta by strengthening the weakened section. The recovery time is lesser than that taken for open abdominal surgery.
Way back in the 2nd century AD, the Greek Surgeon Antyllus first tried to treat abdominal aortic aneurysm by surgery that involved ligation. However, surgical methods were unsuccessful till 1923 AD. The first successful aortic ligation was done by Rudolf Matas. It is interesting to note that the famous mathematical genius of all times, Albert Einstein was surgically operated for abdominal aortic aneurysm by the surgeon Rudolf Nissen which increased his life span for 5 more years. The best way you can avoid complicated surgeries is to adopt a healthy life style that includes eating healthy food, exercising regularly, quit smoking and keeping your blood pressure under control. Take a step towards healthy living today, to prevent serious complications tomorrow.