Think of your aorta as the workhorse of your circulatory system. It’s your largest artery, carrying oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
The walls of your aorta are very elastic and can stretch and shrink back as needed to handle blood-flow demands.
“But some health conditions can weaken your aortic wall, which can cause it to bulge outward, forming an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” says Lorena De Marco Garcia, MD, board-certified surgeon on the medical staff at Memorial. “If the weakened walls of your aorta rupture, the aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding inside your body.”
Risk factors: Men are more likely than women to have an aortic aneurysm. Other risk factors include:
- Hardening of the arteries
- Having a family history of aortic aneurysms
- Having infections or swelling that damage the aorta or heart
- Having high blood pressure
If you have any of these risk factors, ask your doctor if you should be screened for an aortic aneurysm.
“All men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have ever smoked cigarettes should definitely be screened,” Dr. De Marco Garcia says. “Screening is a quick and painless procedure. We use an ultrasound to take a picture of your abdominal aorta, then measure it to determine if there is a bulge.”
Your options: Treatment for an aneurysm depends on its size and location. If the aneurysm is small and detected early, your doctor may recommend watchful waiting.
“If the aneurysm is large or is growing, you may need to undergo surgery to have the aneurysm removed,” Dr. De Marco Garcia says.
Medications to lower high cholesterol or blood pressure, a regular exercise program, a heart-healthy diet, and not smoking are other methods used to deal with an aneurysm.
The Memorial Institute for Heart and Vascular Health and Futura Health Screening are offering low-cost, painless screenings including carotid artery ultrasound to detect stroke-causing plaque, abdominal aortic ultrasound to detect an aneurysm, and ankle brachial index (ABI) to detect peripheral arterial disease in the legs. Screenings are $45 each or $125 for all three. Call (425) 398-7797 or (509) 249-5333 or toll free (866) 486-4882.
Published in Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital Third Age Alive Newsletter Winter 2011