Diagnosis

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 also 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.

To diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm, doctors will review your medical and family history and conduct a physical examination. If your doctor suspects that you have an aortic aneurysm, specialized tests can confirm it. These tests might include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This test is most commonly used to diagnose abdominal aortic aneurysms. 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, and it can detect the size and shape of an aneurysm.

    During a CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine. CT scanning generates X-rays to produce cross-sectional images of your body. Doctors may inject a dye into your blood vessels that helps your arteries to be more visible on the CT pictures (CT angiography).

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI is a painless imaging test that may be used to diagnose an aneurysm and determine its size and location.

    In this test, you lie on a movable table that slides into a tunnel. An MRI uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of your body. Doctors may inject a dye into your blood vessels to help your blood vessels to be more visible on images (magnetic resonance angiography).

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 aneurysms using abdominal ultrasound. Men ages 60 and older with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms should consider regular screening for the condition.

There isn't enough evidence to determine whether women ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked cigarettes or have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms would benefit from abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. Ask your doctor if you need to have an ultrasound screening based on your risk factors. Women who have never smoked generally don't need to be screened for the condition.