While we here at Vascular Specialists think all your veins and arteries are amazing, there’s one in particular that does a simply super job – and your life quite literally depends upon it.
Your aorta is the largest artery in your body, about the thickness of a garden hose. It begins at the top of the heart, connecting with the left ventricle at the aortic arch. Along its way down your body, before splitting into the two iliac arteries at the bottom of your abdomen, the aorta supplies blood to your head, brain, neck and arms, your heart, your ribs and chest, and most of your major organs in your abdomen.
Because the health of your aorta is so vital to your well-being, any sign of an abdominal aortic aneurysm must be carefully monitored. An abdominal aortic aneurysm, or AAA, is a balloon-like bulge, a weakened area, of the lower part of your aorta. An AAA can be very small and nearly impossible to detect, never enlarging and never rupturing. An AAA can “dissect” and split the walls of the artery, causing blood leakage. An AAA can also grow very quickly and dangerously, rupturing and requiring, if possible, emergency surgery. Nearly 9,900 people in the U.S. died from AAA in 2014.
Your risk of AAA increases when you:
• are male
• are over 65
• have ever smoked
• have a family history of AAA
• have high blood pressure or hypertension
• have atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries
If you have 3 or more of these risk factors, you should be screened via ultrasound for AAA.
The causes of AAA are:
• high blood pressure
• disease in the aorta
• trauma or injury, a sudden and intense blow to the chest
• bacterial or fungal infections in the aorta
Most often, AAA develops with little to no symptoms. However, if you have risk factors and feel any of the following, call Vascular Specialists immediately:
• pulsating pain near your navel or belly button
• deep, constant pain in your abdomen
• unexplained back pain
• cold foot or feet, with blue or black toe(s)
• unexplained fever or weight loss
If you are diagnosed with AAA, the method of treatment will depend upon the severity of your condition. We may recommend immediate surgery depending upon the size of your AAA relative to the size of your body frame, height and weight. We may also take a “wait-and-see approach,” regularly monitoring the development of AAA. If you are not already taking medication for hypertension and atherosclerosis, we will prescribe it. If you smoke, we offer guidelines to quit. We will also recommend lifestyle and diet changes, including exercise that raises your heart rate every day.
If you have concerns about your aortic or vascular health, give Vascular Specialists a call at (815) 824-4406. Dr. Tanquilut, Dr. Pradhan and our professional staff will be happy to answer your questions!