The aorta is the largest artery in the body that transports oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the brain, chest, abdominal organs, and to the legs. The portion of the aorta located in the chest that leads from the heart to the diaphragm is the Thoracic Aorta, and the portion leading from the diaphragm to the abdominal area is the Abdominal Aorta. The Abdominal Aorta is basically an elastic blood vessel that stretches and contracts in relation to the pulsation of blood from out of the heart.
To prepare for the screening you will be asked to fast for a least four hours prior to your scheduled appointment, and you may take prescribed medication as normally required. Wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing.
Screening for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is performed using an ultrasound machine. It is a painless and safe test which uses sound waves in order to create an image of the abdominal aorta. Using the resulting images, the width of the aorta is measured. If a bulge is located, it is considered to be an aortic aneurysm. The size of the aneurysm determines the treatment that is recommended. If the bulge is less than two inches (<5.5cm), repeat screenings within six to twelve months may be suggested in order to monitor it for any changes. Advice shall be provided about lifestyle changes which can include following a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and exercising regularly.
The most common cause of an aneurysm is arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, therefore smoking is a major risk factor. Other risk factors, other than genetics and family history, can include hypertension (high blood pressure), age, infection, or previous abdominal injury.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms often do not cause noticeable symptoms, but when they do, it may be a deep pain in the lower back area. Repair of the aneurysm can be performed by surgery or endovascular stenting. Surgery is generally recommended if the aortic aneurysm is large, growing very quickly, or ruptures (which is a painful and dangerous catastrophe).
Prevention is always the best option, so we strongly endorse focusing on your heart health to stop or decrease the chance of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Watching what you eat – with emphasis on a plant-based, whole foods diet – can greatly help. A lack of physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle can worsen the risk for cardiovascular disease. Avoid cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, and maintain a healthy weight, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol level.