What Is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

Illustration of an abdominal aortic aneurysm

Your aorta is the main artery in your body, a superhighway that supplies blood to your entire body. It originates in the left ventricle of your heart and extends all the way down into your abdomen. When the walls of the lower part of your aorta become damaged or weakened, they balloon outwards, causing an aneurysm.

While a ruptured aneurysm is extremely dangerous, most abdominal aortic aneurysms are discovered before they reach that point. Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur most often in people aged 60 and older. 

What are the Symptoms of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

3D reconstruction of an abdominal aortic aneurysmAneurysms develop slowly over the course of several years, and since most people don't experience symptoms, you may be unaware that you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. However, if the aneurysm expands rapidly, tears open or leaks blood, you may have one or all of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the abdomen or back that isn't relieved by switching positions or pain medication. The pain may be sudden, severe and constant and may spread to the legs, groin or buttocks.
  • Fainting.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Shock.

Diagnosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually found during a physical examination or on an X-ray. Your physician will examine your abdomen and feel the pulses in your legs. You may need the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Ultrasound of the abdomen.
  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • CTA (computed tomographic angiogram)

Treatment at Penn

If your aneurysm is bigger than 2.5 inches or you have bleeding inside your body, you will need surgery. When you choose Penn Medicine, you will work with a highly specialized team of cardiologists and surgeons who helped pioneer treatments for abdominal aortic aneurysms and continue to lead and advance the field.

Penn vascular surgeons practice at the highest level, treating some of the most complex cases of aortic repair. Penn is currently the largest referral center for complex aortic work in the region.

Penn Programs & Services for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy

Providing the most advanced surgical and endovascular care for vascular disease