An AAA is a blood-filled bulge or ballooning of the abdominal aorta, the artery that carries blood away from the heart to the lower part of the body. Over time, the bulge (known as an aneurysm) can become weak and the force of normal blood pressure can cause the aorta to rupture. This can lead to severe pain, massive internal bleeding or even sudden death.
While the exact causes of AAA are unknown, the risk factors that increase your chance of developing an AAA include:
- Age: Individuals over the age of 60 are most likely to develop this condition
- Gender: AAAs are between five to 10 times more common in men than in women
- Family history of AAA
- Smoking or history of smoking
- Clogged arteries
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Fortunately, most AAA can be detected early through a simple ultrasound screening in which a health care professional glides a sensor over the stomach to view images of the aorta, similar to a pregnancy ultrasound. The ultrasound screening takes a few minutes and helps doctors 'see' inside to determine if an AAA is present. The exam also measures the size of an AAA, a key step in identifying the best treatment option - such as a watchful, waiting approach, open surgical repair or endovascular grafting.
The good news is that if detected prior to rupture, AAAs can be successfully treated 95 percent of the time. On the contrary, only 10 to 25 percent of people survive a ruptured AAA making it the third leading cause of sudden death in men over 60.
Due to his family history of AAA, professional football legend Joe Theismann understands the risks associated with the disease. "My father was lucky. He wouldn't be here today if his aneurysm had not been detected through a routine exam," says Theismann.
Having his father diagnosed with AAA was a wake-up call to Theismann to get himself screened by a simple, painless, 10-minute ultrasound. Today, he encourages everyone to learn more about AAA and ask their physicians if they qualify for a life-saving screening.
Screenings are held across the country in an attempt to detect AAAs before they rupture and to help save lives. You can find a screening location near you at www.FindtheAAAnswers.org, which also has more information on AAA risk factors and how you can "Take the Pledge" to get screened for AAA and to keep yourself, and your loved ones, healthy into your golden years.