Abdominal Aorta Aneurysm (AAA)

An Abdominal Aorta Aneurysm (AAA) is an enlargement of the aorta, the main blood vessel that delivers blood to the body, at the level of the abdomen. They usually grow slowly and don't have any symptoms in most cases, though some people may notice a pulsating feeling near the navel. Pain in the back, belly, or side may be signs of impending rupture which are life-threatening. Ruptured AAA's typically causes severe low blood pressure and only 50% of patients with a ruptured AAA reach the hospital alive; of those who reach the hospital, up to 50% do not survive repair. Small Abdominal Aorta Aneurysms may only need monitoring but when they get too large or they are growing too quickly need to be repaired with surgery.

My AAA was incidentally discovered during a scan of my spine and I was quite disturbed to learn that I had one. The timing was terrible because my next-door neighbor, who had been sitting at my kitchen table just 3 days prior, had died in surgery to repair his AAA the day before I was told I had one too. I learned mine was pretty small and just needed to be monitored. Every six months I had it checked and its growth was slow and I was told I probably wouldn't ever need surgery. On my routine check-up, I was stunned when I was told I needed it repaired quickly since it had grown significantly and was beyond the dimension considered safe to leave alone. In addition to its size, the aneurysm itself was hitting my spine with every beat of my heart. This news immediately caused my anxiety to increase significantly and was only relieved when I had it repaired without any problems.

I was fortunate that I could have the less risky endovascular aneurysm repair and not have to have my abdomen opened for the repair. Endovascular repair involves inserting a graft/stent within the aneurysm through small groin incisions using X-rays to guide the graft into place. It's another example of modern medicine that I am eternally grateful to benefit from and I recovered from the surgery in a couple of weeks.

My point of interest for others is, that while the idea of having the main blood supply rupture is scary, it's no reason to change your lifestyle. I can't emphasize enough the importance of regular check-ups and, not assume that since it was growing slowly, that you can stop getting it checked.

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