Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (Stable)

Front view of abdominal aorta with aneurysms. Dotted line shows normal width of aorta.The aorta is the body’s main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart. It travels from the heart down to the lower abdomen. There it divides into smaller blood vessels. An aneurysm is a bulge or dilatation in the wall of an artery, in this example, the aorta. This happens because there is a weak spot in the artery wall causing that area to start to deteriorate. This allows the artery to bulge or balloon out creating the aneurysm. It may remain stable and cause no problems, or it can expand and lengthen. If this happens, it can affect the blood flow to different organs. It may also leak or rupture (break open) and cause internal bleeding and even death.  

A number of things can cause aortic aneurysms including:

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)

  • High blood pressure

  • Injury

  • Infection

  • Marfan syndrome — an inherited condition that most commonly affects the heart, eyes, blood vessels, and skeleton

Risk factors that have been associated with aortic aneurysms include:

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)

  • High blood pressure

  • Older age

  • Family history

  • High cholesterol

  • Obesity

  • Tobacco use

  • Men more than women

Most aortic aneurysms don't cause any symptoms until they start to expand rapidly or rupture. Most aneurysms are found during exams or tests done for other reasons (like an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan). When there are symptoms, they may be vague, or they can include:

  • Deep, steady pain in the abdomen and back

  • Pulsating feeling in your abdomen

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness, fainting

  • Low blood pressure

Once there are symptoms, it is important that it be taken care of. An expanding aneurysm causes symptoms of abdomen, back, flank or groin pain, which may come and go at first, or become constant. When an aneurysm ruptures, there can be sudden abdominal, back or groin pain. Weakness, dizziness and loss of consciousness may follow as blood pressure drops and a shock state occurs. This is a fatal condition unless immediate surgery is done.

Small aneurysms rarely rupture. And, they can often be treated with medicines to lower blood pressure and reduce stress on the aortic wall. Routine ultrasound or CT scans can show if the aneurysm is growing. Larger or expanding aneurysms will need surgery. Surgery involves removing the section of aorta where the aneurysm is and replacing it with an artificial blood vessel (graft). A newer option can be used in certain cases. It involves the placement of a stent (tubular wire mesh) inside the aorta. The stent supports the wall and reduce stress on the aneurysm. Rarely, a blood clot can form inside of an aortic aneurysm with no symptoms. A piece of the clot can break off and pass to smaller blood vessels in the intestines or legs and cause pain and loss of blood flow to that part.

If a small aneurysm has been found, which does not require surgery, you should still change any lifestyle factors that may improve your overall heart and blood vessel health. This includes such things as following a healthy diet, losing weight, stopping smoking, and lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Home care

  • Your aneurysm is small and doesn't need surgery. You will be watched closely and have routine ultrasounds to measure the size of the aneurysm every 6 months to 3 years depending on size.

  • You may return to your usual level of activity.

  • Follow these guidelines to improve your cardiac health:

    • If you are overweight, start a weight loss program.

    • If you have high blood pressure, reduce your salt intake. Don't eat high-salt foods, and don’t add salt when cooking.

    • Start an exercise program. Discuss with your healthcare provider what type of exercise program would be best for you. It doesn't have to be difficult. Even brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 times a week is a good form of exercise.

    • Don't take medicines containing stimulants. This includes many cold and sinus decongestant pills and sprays as well as diet pills. Check the warnings about high blood sugar on the label. Stimulants such as amphetamine or cocaine could be deadly for someone with high blood pressure. Never take these.

    • Limit your caffeine intake or switch to caffeine-free products.

    • Stop smoking. No matter how long you've smoked, quitting can be hard. Ask your healthcare provider for help and enroll in a stop-smoking program to improve your chance of success.

  • Learning how to handle stress better is an important part of any program to lower blood pressure. Learn about relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga, or biofeedback.

  • If medicines were prescribed for high blood pressure, take them exactly as directed. Missing doses may cause your blood pressure get out of control.

  • Consider buying an automatic blood pressure machine (available at most pharmacies). Use this to monitor your blood pressure at home and report the results to your healthcare provider.

Follow up care

Regular visits to your healthcare provider for blood pressure checks and periodic ultrasounds of the aorta are an important part of your care. Make a follow-up appointment as advised.

When to seek medical advice 

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Sudden severe abdominal, back, flank or groin pain

  • Blood in your stools

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • Weakness, numbness, pain or coolness of one leg

Call 911

The symptoms of a heart attack or stroke can be life threatening. If you see or have any of the following symptoms, call 911 right away: 

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confused or difficulty arousing

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • New chest, arm, shoulder, neck or upper back pain

  • Trouble with speech or vision, weakness of an arm or leg

  • Trouble walking or talking, loss of balance, numbness or weakness in one side of you body, facial droop

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell