Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are often found during an examination for another reason. For example, during a routine exam, your doctor may feel a pulsating bulge in your abdomen, though it's unlikely your doctor will be able to hear signs of an aneurysm through a stethoscope. Aortic aneurysms are often found during routine medical tests, such as a chest X-ray or ultrasound of the heart or abdomen, sometimes ordered for a different reason.

If your doctor suspects that you have an aortic aneurysm, specialized tests can confirm it. These tests might include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This exam can help diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm. During this painless exam, you lie on your back on an examination table and a small amount of warm gel is applied to your abdomen. The gel helps eliminate the formation of air pockets between your body and the instrument the technician uses to see your aorta, called a transducer. The technician presses the transducer against your skin over your abdomen, moving from one area to another. The transducer sends images to a computer screen that the technician monitors to check for a potential aneurysm.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. This painless test can provide your doctor with clear images of your aorta. During a CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine called a gantry. Detectors inside the gantry measure the radiation that has passed through your body and converts it into electrical signals. A computer gathers these signals and assigns them a color ranging from black to white, depending on signal intensity. The computer then assembles the images and displays them on a computer monitor.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is another painless imaging test. Most MRI machines contain a large magnet shaped like a doughnut or tunnel. You lie on a movable table that slides into the tunnel. The magnetic field aligns atomic particles in some of your cells. When radio waves are broadcast toward these aligned particles, they produce signals that vary according to the type of tissue they are. Your doctor can use the images produced by the signals to see if you have an aneurysm.

Regular screening for people at risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm using abdominal ultrasound. People older than age 60 with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm or other risk factors should talk with their doctors about whether to have a screening ultrasound.

Mar. 22, 2013