More Information on Aortic Aneurysms

1.What is an aneurysm?

An aneurysm is a stretching of a weakened artery, which balloons out rather like a worn motor car tyre. The wall of the artery becomes thinned by loss of its elastic tissue and the artery then inflates making it likely to burst. The most common artery to be affected is the aorta, which is the main artery in the abdomen (tummy). In England and Wales, between 6,000 and 10,000 people each year suffer from rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Most of these patients are men over the age of 60 years. Smoking and high blood pressure are known to increase the risk.

2. How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm detected?

Some patients have the aneurysm diagnosed coincidentally when they are examined for another problem, or if they have a scan for a different reason (kidney trouble or gallstones, for example). Occasionally, the patient may become aware of a feeling of pulsation in the abdomen. As the aneurysm stretches it can also cause pain in the back or abdomen. If an aneurysm is suspected, your GP will refer you to a specialist Vascular Surgeon for advice; either your GP or specialist will order an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound scanning of the abdomen is a painless test that takes only a few minutes to do. It is used to decide whether an aneurysm is present and to measure its exact size.

3. Who is at risk?

It is known that men over the age of 60 years, younger men with a brother or father who has had an aneurysm, or men with other arterial disease (angina, hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure) are at risk. In some areas of the country, people at increased risk of having an abdominal aortic aneurysm are being offered screening by ultrasound scan.

4. Do I need surgery?

Not all aneurysms need an operation. The risk of rupture, and therefore the need for repair, depends on the size of the aneurysm. If the aneurysm is large (more than 5.5cms in diameter) it is probably safer to have an operation than to leave it alone. This protects the aorta from rupture. Smaller aneurysms are usually observed by repeat scanning at 6 to 12 monthly intervals, in case they enlarge and become dangerous. Average enlargement is about 0.5cm per year, so surgery may be required at a later stage. Your specialist Vascular Surgeon will give you a clear explanation of the options in your case.

5. What does surgery involve?

Current surgical treatment involves the insertion of a new lining into the aorta (like the inner tube of a tyre), made of a very strong man-made material called Dacron. This will last up to 20 years, or more. The operation is done through an incision in the abdomen and requires a 7-10 day stay in hospital .

 

A newer and effective technique for repairing aortic aneurysms is called Endovascular Repair, where the new lining in inserted through two small incisions in the groin. The recovery from Endovascular Repair is normally much quicker; about 70% of aneurysms are suitable for this technique.

 

The Warwickshire Surgical Partners all have extensive experience in both techniques of aortic aneurysm repair and will be able to discuss these in detail at your consultation.

 

6. Is surgery successful?

If aneurysms are repaired before they rupture, there is a high overall chance of successful repair and a return to normal life expectancy. However, you should discuss the risks of surgery in your particular case with your surgeon.

7. How can I help myself?

There is nothing you can do about the aneurysm. However, if you are a smoker, this is likely to make your aneurysm grow faster. We know that stopping smoking can reduce the growth rate of your aneurysm. Improving your general health by taking regular exercise and losing weight is helpful even if you do not need an operation at present.We know that stopping smoking can reduce the growth rate of your aneurysm.

 

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