An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs when the aorta, a major vessel that supplies blood to the body, becomes severely weakened. This can cause a bulging or swelling of the vessel, which can get worse over time, either gradually or quickly. In the worst-case scenario, an abdominal aneurysm can also rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding — and if that happens, your chances of survival are slim. However, if detected early, there are several intervention options that can save your life. Read on to learn the top symptoms of AAA that could help you spot a problem earlier — including one you might be feeling near your belly button.
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Abdominal aortic aneurysms are difficult to detect, says Ali Azizzadeh, MD, FACS, Director of the Department of Vascular Surgery at Cedars-Sinai. “Most aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic, leaving patients unaware of their disease. That’s why they’re sometimes called ‘time bombs’ or ‘silent killers’,” says Azizzadeh Best life. “Many are discovered when patients are being treated with imaging for other ailments. For example, a CT scan performed in the emergency room after a car accident shows a previously undetected abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).”
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are some key signs of AAA that will most likely alert you to the condition. Individually, they could all be attributed to other diseases or be considered completely normal. However, if experienced together, they can suggest a growing aneurysm that may require immediate treatment or even emergency surgery.
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Feeling a strong pulse to the left of your belly button can be perfectly normal as the aorta runs down your chest and carries blood from the heart to the rest of your body. According to Penn Medicine, you’re most likely to notice a strong pulse in this area during or after a meal, while lying down, or during pregnancy.
However, if you notice a strong pulse along with another key symptom, you may have reason to suspect an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Read on to learn which confirming symptom may indicate a more serious problem.
The Mayo Clinic warns that “deep, constant pain” in the anterior or lateral abdomen is another symptom of AAA — as is back pain. “Pain is the most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” say experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, noting that the sensation can extend to the chest or groin. “The pain can be strong or dull. Sudden, severe pain in the back or abdomen may mean the aneurysm is about to rupture,” they write. “This is a life-threatening medical emergency.”
Azizzadeh cautions that people at high risk of AAA should ask their doctor about screening, even if they don’t have symptoms. “Patients with risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of [tobacco use], or relatives with aneurysms should consult with their doctor about possible screening. The Screening Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Very Efficiently (SAAAVE) Act, enacted by Congress in 2007, covers screening as part of the Welcome to Medicare Physical for some high-risk patients,” he added.
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Experts say if an abdominal aneurysm is discovered in the early stages, your doctor’s primary goal is to prevent an aortic dissection or rupture. This would most likely involve surgery to replace the weakened or bulging part of the blood vessel with a synthetic tube.
Proactive screening and preventative measures—especially if you’re at high risk—can have dramatic, life-saving effects. “A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal,” says Britain’s National Health Service. “Approximately eight out of ten people with a fracture either die before reaching the hospital or do not survive the surgery.”
Signs that an aortic aneurysm has actually ruptured may include a sudden, intense pain that feels like a “tearing” in the abdomen or back, a drop in blood pressure, or a rapid heart rate. If you think you may have a ruptured aneurysm, call 911 right away.
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