The aorta is a large blood vessel that runs through the legs, arms, and abdomen. Its purpose is to carry blood to these regions. Without it, they would become starved of important oxygen that the blood carries, which would cause these body parts to die. If a person smokes or drinks excessively, the wall of the aorta can become thin and weak in some places. This creates a problem because the walls of the aorta can bulge out from the pressure of the blood flow at the weakened places. This bulge is called an aneurysm.
The most common part of the body for this to happen in is in the abdomen, thus named an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Some may call it a “Triple A.” It can be a life-threatening condition if it is not treated in time. Because of this, it is crucial that those who have a higher risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm know what the symptoms of this condition are and what to do if they develop them.
What are the Symptoms of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?
At first, a person who develops an abdominal aortic aneurysm won’t know that there is anything wrong because there are not any specific initial symptoms that occur. That is, the most common symptom of a AAA is ‘no symptom.’ But over time, this will change as the condition worsens, though. The abdomen will swell up to the size of the bulge in the aorta increases. And since the aorta is connected to the heart, a person will notice that they feel a strong heartbeat pulsing on their abdomen. Commonly, persons will feel the pain going into the back.
The more that the aorta bulges, the more pain that a person will be in. And it will finally become so bad that they can’t stand the pain anymore. Because of this, it is common for some people to think that they are having stomach problems or a burst appendix instead. The thinned walls of the aorta that have bulged out can only withstand so much pressure from the heart pumping blood into them, though. So if the condition goes untreated, the aorta will finally burst open.
A burst aorta is fatal in one out every five people because the heart will continue to pump blood through the aorta even though it has a hole in it. This causes a person to have internal bleeding in their abdomen. And even though the blood is still in the body, it isn’t being pumped through the veins anymore, so a person bleeds to death very quickly.
Does an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Require a Trip to the Emergency Room?
Sometimes, this condition develops suddenly, which means that a person could die if they don’t get help fast. So anyone who has the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm should head to the hospital immediately. They shouldn’t wait for a doctor’s appointment. But they shouldn’t drive themselves there because having to sit up with a steering wheel pressed against the abdomen could make an aneurysm burst sooner. Also, the stress of dealing with traffic on the way to the hospital will increase the blood pressure, which will strain an aneurysm further.
It is best to keep a person with an abdominal aortic aneurysm laying down comfortably until an ambulance can arrive to take them to the hospital. If no ambulance is available, then they should be transported in the back seat of a vehicle where they can stay in a reclined position or the front seat if the seat is pushed all the way back.
Someone should also monitor the person’s condition all the way to the hospital. Therefore, if signs that an aneurysm has ruptured begin, help can be called. Some of the symptoms of a burst abdominal aortic aneurysm include:
- A bruised, mottled appearance to the skin of the abdomen.
- Sudden increased swelling in the abdomen.
- Excruciating abdominal
How is this condition Diagnosed?
Doctors will first examine the abdomen for protruding veins, engorgement, and a pulse that can be felt without a stethoscope. They will also ask the patient to rate their pain level. And if all of the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm are present, but the aneurysm hasn’t burst yet, then a bedside ultrasound may be done. An aortic diameter of 3 cm or greater is diagnostic for an aneurysm. One greater than 5 cm is suggestive of an imminent rupture. An ultrasound (FAST) exam is a good study determine free fluid. That is, if the aneurysm is leaking. A CT scan may also be done to check the size, shape, and location of the aneurysm. However, the patient must stable enough to withstand such a study which is generally done away from ER department. But if the aneurysm has already burst, there won’t be any time for any of this testing. The patient has to be rushed in for surgery. Otherwise, they will bleed out and die.
What are the Treatment Options for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?
Surgery is the only available treatment option for this condition. A stent is placed in the location of the bulge to reinforce the walls. This way, the aneurysm will be prevented from expanding. This procedure is highly risky since the stent has to be inserted down below the point of the bulge. If it isn’t placed carefully, it could damage the artery walls that are already fragile. This could lead to its rupturing.
Sometimes, people who don’t have healthy arteries have to have several stents put in different locations. Each time that they have to have this procedure done, they have an increased risk of infection or side effects from the anesthesia that it requires.
How Long Does This Condition Last?
Luckily, this isn’t a long-term condition. Once it develops, it has to be treated fast to prevent a person from dying. But if they receive treatment in time, the condition doesn’t continue. However, the underlying reasons for the bulge occurring have to be dealt with. For instance, someone might have weakened arteries because they drink excessively and smoke. If this is the case, they may need help to stop these bad habits. Sometimes, artery walls can also be weakened if a person has untreated high blood pressure too. So, they may need medication to keep it in control.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a serious condition that can be fatal. Therefore, it is crucial that anyone who develops severe abdominal pain with a pulsing sensation felt through the region get immediate treatment in the emergency room. They should never wait for a doctor’s appointment. A person’s primary care physician can always be called to the hospital later on. And remember, this condition can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking.