An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a swelling (aneurysm) of the aorta  the main blood vessel that leads away from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body.

The abdominal aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is usually around 2 cm wide  roughly the width of a garden hose. However, it can swell to over 5.5 cm  what doctors class as a large AAA.

Large aneurysms are rare, but can be very serious. If a large aneurysm bursts, it causes huge internal bleeding and is usually fatal.

The bulging occurs when the wall of the aorta weakens. Although what causes this weakness is unclear, smoking and high blood pressure are thought to increase the risk of an aneurysm.

AAAs are most common in men aged over 65. A rupture accounts for more than 1 in 50 of all deaths in this group and a total of 6,000 deaths in England and Wales each year.

This is why all men are invited for a  Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening when they turn 65. The test involves a simple ultrasound scan , which takes around 10-15 minutes.

Symptoms of an AAA

In most cases, an AAA causes no noticeable symptoms. However, if it becomes large, some people may develop a pain or a pulsating feeling in theirabdomen (tummy)or persistent back pain.

An AAA doesnt usually pose a serious threat to health, but theres a risk that a larger aneurysm could burst (rupture).

A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal. Around 8 out of 10 people with a rupture either die before they reach hospital or dont survive surgery.

The most common symptom of a ruptured aortic aneurysm is sudden and severe pain in the abdomen.

If you suspect that you or someone else has had a ruptured aneurysm, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

This is also how an aneurysm will be diagnosed if your doctor suspects you have one.

This is usually done with surgery to replace the weakened section of the blood vessel with a piece of synthetic tubing.

If surgery is not advisable or if you decide not to have it there are a number of non-surgical treatments that can reduce the risk of an aneurysm rupturing.

They include medications to lower  your cholesterol and blood pressure , and quitting smoking .

You will also have the size of your aneurysm checked regularly with ultrasound scanning.

All men in England are invited for screening in the year they turn 65.

Men who are over 65 and have not previously been screened can request a screening test by contacting their  local AAA screening service directly.

Women and men under 65 are not invited for screening.

However, if you feel you have an increased risk of having an AAA, talk to your GP who can still refer you for a scan.

If you are experiencing the following:

  • Pulsating feeling in the stomach
  • Back ache
  • Prolonged pain in the belly
  • All of the above and especially if you are 65 or older

You must contact a medical professional, because you may be suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 20 Jan 2017