DANVILLE - Oftentimes, by the time an abdominal aortic aneurysm is discovered, it is already too late. Abdominal aortic aneurysms typically show no symptoms until they burst. When they do rupture, less than 50 percent of people survive the episode.
"Abdominal aortic aneurysms develop slowly over the course of many years in the blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen and legs. They typically develop without symptoms, so prior to one rupturing, it is primarily only detectable by an ultrasound or CT scan," said James Elmore, M.D., FACS, director of endovascular surgery for Geisinger Health System. "Therefore, we recommend those who display some of the risk factors for abdominal aortic aneurysms to undergo at least one aortic ultrasound in an attempt to discover the aneurysm before it ruptures."
According to Dr. Elmore, many of the risk factors that lead to abdominal aortic aneurysms, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, can be attributed to lifestyle. However, not all risk factors can be helped by altering lifestyle since genetic factors play a key role in the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms. Aneurysms occur most often in men over 60 and in those with a family history of aneurysms.
"Given that abdominal aortic aneurysms are difficult to detect in a routine examination, we, as physicians, try to monitor a patient's risk factors and determine if he or she would benefit from a screening ultrasound," said Dr. Elmore.
When an abdominal aortic aneurysm bursts, it is a true medical emergency. It occurs when the aorta grows large and bleeds out like a "bad spot" on an inner tube of a tire, Dr. Elmore said. These patients present with abdominal and low back pain.
"The ultimate goal is to detect abdominal aortic aneurysms before they rupture, but if they aren't found early and someone experiences the systems of a rupture, it's imperative they call 911 as quickly as possible," said Dr. Elmore. "If discovered in time, surgery can correct abdominal aortic aneurysms."
Most surgeries performed today are done with stent grafts that are minimally invasive and usually require a one-night stay in the hospital for elective aortic aneurysm repair. These stents can be placed with small incisions. Patients recover quickly and can generally resume full activity in one to two weeks.