Atherosclerosis usually causes narrowing (stenosis) of arteries however it can also cause bulging or dilatation of arteries (aneurysms). Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)-bulging of the main artery in the abdomen is a particularly important type of aneurysm because if it ruptures it needs emergency treatment and can be fatal, however AAA develops over many years and if found through screening it can be monitored and often treated electively either with a surgical repair or using a covered stent passed through a catheter when appropriate.
Screening for AAA has been shown to be of benefit in certain patient groups and as such forms an important part of an overall cardiovascular screening program.
The abdominal aorta can be scanned in detail using ‘body scans’ such as CT and MRI which give a very accurate assessment however AAA can also be screened for using simple abdominal ultrasound.
If there is evidence of AAA on screening then if the aneurysm is small, regular scans will usually be recommended. If the aneurysm is large then it may be appropriate to consider repairing it.
This treatment may often be lead by a vascular surgeon but might also involve an interventional radiologist or cardiologist if a stent is being considered. Preventive therapies will also be important to reduce as much as possible the risk of future cardiovascular events.
All test results should be treated with caution and interpreted in the context of a clinical assessment.