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Talk to Your Doctor about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

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Content last updated on:
February 21, 2014

The Basics

If you are a man age 65 to 75 and have ever smoked, talk with your doctor about abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

Your doctor may order an ultrasound test to check for AAA. An ultrasound uses sound waves to look inside the body. Most types of ultrasounds are painless.

Aneurysms (“AN-yoor-izms”) usually grow slowly without any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about your risk.

If aneurysms grow large enough to burst (break open), they can cause dangerous bleeding inside the body and death. If AAA is found early, it can be treated to stop it from bursting.

What is AAA?
The aorta (“ay-OAR-tah”) is your body’s main artery. An artery is a tube that carries blood away from your heart. The aorta carries blood from your heart to your pelvis, abdomen (belly), and legs.

If the wall of an artery is weak, the artery can swell like a balloon. This balloon-like swelling is called an aneurysm.

AAA occurs in the part of the aorta running through the abdomen.

Illustration: Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Learn more about AAA:

Am I at risk for AAA?
Men over age 60 who have ever smoked are at greatest risk for AAA.

Other risk factors for AAA include:

How do I know if I have AAA?
There are usually no symptoms of AAA. Blood vessels can swell up slowly over time. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor about AAA to see if you are at risk.

If you have an aneurysm that starts to tear and cause bleeding, this is a medical emergency. You may suddenly have:

  • Pain in your lower back, stomach, or legs
  • Nausea (feeling like you are going to vomit) and vomiting
  • Clammy (sticky) skin

You will need surgery right away.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Take these steps to lower your risk for AAA.

Talk with your doctor about your risk for AAA.
Here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor or nurse:

  • Do I need to get screened for AAA?
  • How can I get help to quit smoking?
  • What are my blood pressure numbers and cholesterol levels?
  • Do I need to lose weight to reduce my risk for AAA?

What about cost?
Screening for AAA is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Make changes to lower your risk for AAA.
It’s never too late to take steps to lower your risk for AAA.

Quit smoking.
Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to lower your risk of AAA. If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support and to set up your quit plan.

Get your blood pressure checked.
If your blood pressure is high, you can take steps to lower it. Getting active, watching your weight, and eating less sodium (salt) can help you control your blood pressure. 

Get active.
Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity every week.

Get your cholesterol checked.
If you have high cholesterol, start by adopting a heart healthy eating plan. This means eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

Get more tips to help you lower your cholesterol [PDF - 2 MB].

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