Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the main artery in the abdomen, which is the aorta.
The aorta is important because it carries oxygenated blood from the heart to much of the body, including the intestines and kidneys and legs. Aortic aneurysms are typically found in older patients and those with relatives with the same condition.
The most common cause of an aneurysm is atherosclerosis, which is caused by fat deposits in the vessel wall from decades of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or smoking. Atherosclerosis weakens the vessel wall and the wall begins to thin and balloon outward causing the aorta to increase in size.
Doctors may want to treat an aneurysm if it grows too quickly or becomes too large.
Treatment is also suggested if any aneurysm causes pain in the chest, abdomen, or legs.
Interventional radiologists treat AAA by inserting a stent-graft into the aorta to help support the vessel wall and prevent the aneurysm from growing larger. This treatment helps patients avoid major surgeries which have a longer recovery time and increased risk of death during the hospital stay. The procedure can be performed without pain by using local anesthesia to numb the skin and with painkillers like those used at the dentist’s office.
Then, catheters are inserted into the major artery to the legs called the femoral arteries. Using blood vessels as a safe path to the aorta, the stent-graft is inserted into the abdominal aortic aneurysm where the device expands to fill the vessel. X-rays are used during the entire procedure to ensure that instruments are in the right place and patients are monitored the entire time by nurses.
Patients recover overnight in the hospital but must keep their legs straight for two hours. If no complications occur, patients are typically sent home the next morning to see their doctors in clinic to routine follow-up.
Patients are asked not to lift heavy objects for two weeks following the procedure or soak in the tub for 1 week. However, patients can generally do anything else they like while they heal. There is no large scar, no pain killers required and no significant time off work. Follow-up imaging is required to ensure that the stent-graft remains in good position and that the aneurysm does not continue to grow.