Tuesday, May 11, 2010
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Abdominal aortic aneurysms have been considered mainly a man's problem. Men, more often than women, develop a weakened and bulging area in the aorta, the body's largest artery, which poses a risk of rupture. But according to the May issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, women aren't risk free. If they develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm, women may not fare as well as men, particularly if an aneurysm grows large enough to require surgery.
Here are some facts that women and men should know about this potentially life-threatening condition.
The aorta carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. A weak spot and a bulge can occur anywhere along the artery. Three-fourths of the time, they occur in the section that runs through the abdomen — thus, abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Most often, abdominal aortic aneurysms are diagnosed by chance during a physical exam or during an X-ray, ultrasound or imaging test performed for an unrelated problem. Current government guidelines recommend a one-time abdominal ultrasound screening for men ages 65 to 75 who are current or former smokers. Screenings are considered in younger men, age 60 and older, who have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms. There are no screening guidelines for women, but women should ask their doctor when screening may be advisable.
If aneurysms are discovered, there are two approaches — watchful waiting or surgical repair. For small aneurysms, those measuring about 1.6 inches in diameter or less, watchful waiting may be the best approach. A doctor will likely recommend ultrasounds every six to 12 months to monitor the size of the aneurysm. Beta blockers, medications to reduce blood pressure, may be recommended to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of rupture. Some aneurysms never grow large enough to cause problems.
The other option is surgery to repair the aneurysm. In men, surgery may be put off until the aneurysm has reach 2.2 inches in diameter. In women, surgery may be considered sooner because studies have show that the rupture risk may be greater for those with large aneurysms.
The best way to prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm is to keep blood vessels as healthy as possible. For most people, that means controlling blood pressure, not smoking, getting regular exercise and reducing cholesterol and fat in the diet.
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