Weakness in artery walls can cause bulges called aneurysms. Aneurysms can occur anywhere, but are most common in the abdominal aorta, which supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs.
Aneurysms pose two major risks: they can rupture, causing massive bleeding; and blood clots can form inside them and be carried into other areas of the body. According to the Society of Interventional Radiology, 50 percent of people with untreated abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) die of rupture.
While an aneurysm can sometimes be felt as a pulsing lump in the abdomen or cause abdomen, side or back pain, in most cases there are no symptoms. Aneurysms are often discovered during scans or examinations for other problems.
Doctors will often monitor aneurysms under 5.5 centimeters for changes in size and status. Patients may have regular ultrasounds or CT scans.
For AAAs 5.5 centimeters or larger, or for certain types of patients, doctors may recommend surgery. There are currently no non-surgical treatments for AAAs, but surgical options include less-invasive endovascular (performed within the blood vessel) procedures, in addition to the traditional bypass. Which is best depends on a variety of factors, including severity of the aneurysm and the patient's anatomy.
Endovascular stent grafting
Doctors insert a mesh tube with a fabric covering (stent graft) to reinforce artery walls so blood can pass safely through.
You will be given general anesthesia. The doctor will insert a catheter into your groin and guide it to the aneurysm using fluoroscopy (a moving X-ray image projected onto a monitor). The doctor will then insert a compressed version of the stent graft through the catheter. Once in place, the stent graft expands to fit snugly against the artery wall. Blood flows through the stent instead of the bulging portion of the artery.
Open surgical aneurysm repair
Surgeons replace the weakened part of the aorta wall with a manmade tube called an aortic graft.
You will be given general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make an incision in your abdomen and remove the bulging, weakened part of your aorta. The surgeon will then stitch the aortic graft into place.