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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm - A 15 Minute Test Can Save Your Life

Updated on May 7, 2013
ultrasound scan for abdominal aortic aneurysm
ultrasound scan for abdominal aortic aneurysm | Source

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the 4th biggest causes of death in men aged 65 and over, after cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

Yet it is a silent killer.

There are no symptoms, no warnings.

Aneurysms can occur in any artery in the body, but most commonly occur in the aorta which is the major blood vessel in the body, carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart.

The wall of the artery can become stretched with age, and lose elasticity.

When this happens, the wall bulges and thins.

The speed of the blood flow through arteries is tremendous, and is faster again in the aorta, adding stress to aged artery walls.

If it bursts, you bleed to death in about 3 minutes.

Now, many Health Boards are offering a simple ultrasound scan to people aged over 65, to detect the presence of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

abdominal aortic aneurysm
abdominal aortic aneurysm | Source

Detection of Treatment of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

If you fall under this age bracket, please go along to your doctor or clinic and make an appointment.

The test is painless and only takes about 15 minutes, but it could save your life.

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm is detected, it will be measured, noted, and checked up on if it is under a certain size.

The danger size is 5.5cm, so if the aneurysm is smaller, expect it to be observed at intervals for signs of it enlarging, but usually doctors do not carry out any procedure at this point.

50% of people with a small aneurysm will find that their aneurysm never enlarges and no operation will be needed.

5.5cm and above, and you are at risk of dropping down dead.

Doctors will operate and remove that section of your artery and replace it with a synthetic material to hold it all in place.

This is a major operation.

I have personally watched surgeons carrying out an aortic bifurcation graft. This was over 30 years ago, so with modern day techniques you can be sure the operation is well-practised and safe.

Afterwards, you will need to take it easy for a while to allow the graft to heal, and then you will be well enough to continue with your life and normal activities, knowing your life is no longer in danger.

6 to 8 Time More Men Than Women Suffer Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

Women get abdominal aortic aneurysms too, and just like in men, there are no symptoms. Sometimes they are picked up on ultrasounds looking for other conditions.

If you are woman, and have a family history of aneurysms occurring anywhere in the body, it is certainly well worth checking out this new facility.

However, as men are statistically 6 to 8 times more likely to suffer one that you, the chances are you will not be offered a routine scan, but on enquiring will be given one anyway.

Sam Ellicott, in full health again

Sam Ellicott, alive today thanks to an ultrasound scan which showed a very large and dangerous abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Sam Ellicott, alive today thanks to an ultrasound scan which showed a very large and dangerous abdominal aortic aneurysm. | Source

A True Story about How an Abdominal Ultrasound Scan Saved One Man's Life

73 year old Sam Ellicott was driving along the road one day, only half-listening to his car radio, when something he heard caught his attention.

The radio presenter had a studio guest (who was a specialist) talking about aneurysms, and he caught the words "silent killer" and "men over 65 at risk". At the end of the show, the presenter gave out the contact number for a local screening program.

Sam was stopped at traffic lights and the time, and, grabbing a pen off his dashboard, noted the number on the back of his hand.

Later that day, he phoned and made an appointment for the following week.

The procedure was simple. All he had to do was lay down on a trolley and lift his shirt to allow gel to be placed on his stomach for the scan, which as us ladies know, is painless.

The news was bad.

Sam Ellicott had a thumping great 6.5 cm abdominal aortic aneurysm, and he was scheduled for immediate surgery.

Afterwards, he made a full recovery.

Sam owes his life to that radio program, without which he would never have suspected or had any inkling his life was in such danger.

Perhaps someone reading this hub will feel the same one day.

Get checked out. Look for a screening program near you. Don't die of ignorance.


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Izzy - I see you have fond memories of your Dad. I'm with Dzy on this - May those happy memories bring you piece.

      Dzy - I wish your husband all the best. I agree with Izzy. Medical science is advancing rapidly and there is more hope today with successful outcomes.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 3 years ago from UK

      Dzy (((big hugs girl))) I am so sorry about your husband. It sounds like the aneurysm is the least of his worries. He must be so ill when he needs a heart transplant! Medical science has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. It will probably continue to do so, so hopefully something will come along for him. He is only 57, so I would hope the doctors would operate on his aneurysm first, then replace his heart when he was over it, or at least put him back on the waiting list. I can't help thinking that if they'd operated on Dad's when it was first diagnosed, he might be still with me now. Then again, he was 84, three weeks short of his 85th birthday when he died. His mind was still as sharp as ever. The Russian meteorite had just hit, and he was the first to tell me about the earlier one, was it in 1917? Whatever. He was a scientist who kept up with all things scientific. I've never cancelled all the magazines he subscribed to...

      Getting back on topic, aneurysms can kill, but they are secondary problems to someone whose heart is failing. I am so sorry. I just hope things get better, that's all I can do.

      @Glenn, Dad also had that plaque build-up in his carotid artery, but they successfully operated on it. Can't remember when that was, but it was years ago. My Mum was the best cook in the world, and we were brought up on home cooking. Everything cooked from fresh, none of your supermarket ready-meals. Meat always served with at least 2 veggies. Lots of home-made veggie soups. I noticed since I came home that they always cooked and served small portions of everything. Never had fry-ups, everything either boiled, roasted or grilled. Red meats in moderation. White meat and fish the preferred choice. A heart-healthy diet, in other words.

      Dad didn't die of a heart attack, and the healthy diet did not prevent Mum from developing the dreaded dementia which is in our family. It's genetic!

      So, no, I am not going to worry about diet or drink or smoking or any of the thousand other things that might kill us, because I'd rather die of one of those things that live long enough to develop dementia.

      My mother would be mortified if she knew how many functions she has lost. Thankfully she will never know, but I do. And I don't want to live like that.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Dear Izzy,

      I had not previously read the other comments; I admit to having been a bit rushed at the time, and your article and its importance hit home with me.

      On re-reading, I'm so sorry to learn that you lost your dad to this insidious condition. How very heartbreaking. May you find peace in happy memories.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      You sure have been though a lot with both parents, Izzy. My mother had Alzheimer's, so I know what you're going through with your mom's dementia. Losing both brothers as well must be very stressful.

      A friend of mine was diagnosed with plaque buildup in his Carotid artery. He stopped eating meat and anything fatty. It cleared up without any medication. After doing some reading I found that heart disease is reversible with proper diet. Take care of yourself and eat healthy. That makes a big difference.

      I hope you don't mind me telling you this. I just want you to know that you can make a difference for yourself.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I know all about this. My husband has one, and has had for a couple of years, now. He is only 57--but is a heart patient, has had numerous stent placements over the years, and I'm not so sure that all that "messing about" inside the artery doesn't actually cause or contribute to the condition.

      He is in a bit of a pickle, as he was being evaluated for a heart transplant, but the aneurysm is a contra-indication--they'd want it fixed, first. However, they are not willing to operate for that, as it is still in the "we're just watching it" stage. He's also had a couple of other problems, though, that contributed to him being taken off the transplant list. They did say that the type of repair is dependent upon the extent of the aneurysm; sometimes it is an open repair; sometimes can be fixed with a mesh gizmo, much like placing any other stent.

      Thanks for your timely and important article. Voted up, interesting, useful, shared and pinned.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks Glenn. I wasn't around much over the past 20 years, but I came home to look after both my parents almost 2 years ago. Dad was so happy, he always had a smile on his face when he saw me. Mum has multi-infarct dementia, so I suppose Dad was lonely too. She has gone right downhill since he died, sadly, so in a way I have lost both parents. Both my brothers died young so the burden of responsibility lies on my shoulders alone , to take care of Mum and the house. Not easy. I'm not getting tested for an aneurysm because I don't want to know, frankly.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I am so sorry, Izzy, to hear that your father passed away this year. You make a good point about not knowing. If it can't be operated on anyway, then why know about it. I understand how you feel about his worrying, but I am sure he enjoyed his last 20 years because he had you around.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 3 years ago from UK

      My father has died since this hub was written. He'd known about his aortic aneurysm for about 20 years, getting regular check-ups. Then it grew in size to 6.5 and the surgeon told him he couldn't operate because of it's position. Then one day in March of this year, it burst, slowly at first. Dad was in a lot of pain but had time to get to the hospital. While there, it gave way completely and he slipped into a coma and died. I am heartbroken, but at least I was with him at the end. I can't help thinking he might have enjoyed his last 20 years of life better without this worry hanging over him the entire time. Maybe getting tested is a good thing, IF they can operate. Not if they can't.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I had this test performed just to be on the safe side. Insurance doesn't pay for it ( where I live ) but it's not expensive. And if it can save your life, it's well worth it.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

      Yes please do. My own father has one, and he attends hospital every six months or so, but it doesn't seem to be enlarging, so far.

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 6 years ago

      Never heard of this.I'll have to mention this to my father and father in law who are both in their 60's.Up & Interesting & Useful :-)

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

      Thanks, you never know when it might strike close to home.

    • profile image

      weezyschannel 6 years ago

      wow..scary if you ask me..good info

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

      Thanks Mary! There always seems to be something to worry about eh?

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for this good information. I voted it Up, etc.etc

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

      writer20, I am sorry to hear that. I found this forum discussion for you if its any help - its 4 years old but the info should be the same, I imagine.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

      Thankyou :) I hope it is read by someone who it can help.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I happy his life was saved.

      I have just been diagnosed with Afib/svt if anyone else has this can we chat.

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 6 years ago from India

      See a simple test of 15 minutes can save a precious life. well written and useful hub and may be it will help someone who read this article from this serious condition. rated up and useful!