Screening and Management of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: The Best Evidence


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Apr 1;73(7):1157-1158.

  Related Article

Deaths related to abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) account for less than 1 percent of deaths annually in U.S. men 65 years and older.1 What sets AAA apart from more common causes of death is that it is a preventable problem. Ultrasonographic screening for aortic aneurysms is rapid, accurate, and relatively inexpensive. A single normal ultrasound examination in men 65 years or older virtually excludes future risk of AAA-related death.2 More than 50 years of experience has shown that open surgical repair nearly eliminates the risk of AAA-related death.3 A recent meta-analysis4 found that aneurysm screening reduced AAA-related deaths by 43 percent over four to five years in men 65 years and older.

In 2005, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a recommendation for one-time aneurysm screening for all men 65 years and older who have ever smoked (more than 100 lifetime cigarettes).5 The prevalence of AAA in older men ranges from 4.2 to 8.8 percent. The prevalence in men who never smoked is about 30 percent of the prevalence for ever-smokers; aneurysms also are smaller in those who never smoked compared with aneurysms in ever-smokers of the same age. The USPSTF made no recommendation for screening of average-risk men who never smoked.

The prevalence of aortic aneurysms in women ranges from 0.6 to 1.4 percent, or about 15 percent of the prevalence in men. There is also a seven- to 10-year lag in the incidence of aneurysms in women compared with men. Most AAA-related deaths occur before 80 years of age in men and after 80 years of age in women. Because there is no evidence that screening is beneficial in women, the USPSTF recommended against aneurysm screening in average-risk women. The USPSTF noted that physicians should consider other risk factors when individualizing recommendations for specific patients.

The significance of these recommendations was underscored by the recent passage of the Screening Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Very Efficiently Act. Beginning in January 2007, Medicare will provide coverage to new enrollees for one-time ultrasonography in men with a history of smoking and in men and women 65 to 74 years of age with a family history of AAA.

Once an AAA is identified, the question is how to proceed. Periodic surveillance every two to three years is warranted for those with 3.0- to 3.9-cm AAAs because they rarely rupture.6 For 4.0- to 5.4-cm AAAs, two clinical trials7,8 have demonstrated that immediate surgical repair does not improve overall survival compared with periodic surveillance. Based on these trial outcomes, it is generally safe to refer patients with AAAs of 5.0 cm or larger. For patients with aortic aneurysms 5.5 cm or larger in diameter, the risk of rupture increases progressively with size, and mortality with aneurysm rupture is about 80 percent.9 Elective open surgical repair in those fit for surgery is the accepted standard of care.

In coming years, the more unsettled issue will be the role of endovascular repair in the management of AAA. The impetus for developing this technique was the expectation that for aneurysms 5.5 cm or larger, endovascular repair would reduce postoperative morbidity and mortality, speed recovery, and improve long-term survival compared with open surgical repair. Early results from two European clinical trials10,11 showed that 30-day mortality with endovascular repair in patients with an AAA of 5.5 cm or larger was substantially lower than for surgical repair. However, in follow-up studies1214 from both trials, these early survival advantages disappeared after one to one and one half years. Because endovascular aneurysm repair has risks of late complications, results after four to five years of follow-up will be needed to determine the long-term outcomes with endovascular repair.

In a 2005 report14 from a U.S. endovascular repair registry, more than one half of endovascular repairs were for aneurysms 5.4 cm or smaller. Because clinical trials have not shown a survival advantage for early surgical repair compared with periodic surveillance, it is not clear whether endovascular repair for small aneurysms is superior to either. Trials are underway in the United States and Europe to examine this question. How will physicians, given what is and is not known about interventions for AAA, provide the patient with informed advice about options? The physician should encourage surveillance when it is prudent. When intervention is indicated, surgical repair is still the standard of care. When advising patients about the option of endovascular repair, long-term outcomes from ongoing clinical trials should provide the best guidance for the appropriate role of this intervention.

The Author

CRAIG FLEMING, M.D., is clinical investigator at the Oregon Evidence-Based Practice Center and the Kaiser-Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.

Address correspondence to Craig Fleming, M.D., Kaiser-Permanente Center for Health Research, 3800 N. Interstate Ave., Portland, OR 97277 (e-mail:craig.fleming@kp.org). Reprints are not available from the author.


show all references

1. Anderson RN. Deaths: leading causes for 2000. National Vital Statistics Report 2002;50:1–86. Accessed online March 2, 2006, at:http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr50/nvsr50_16.pdf....

2. Crow P, Shaw E, Earnshaw JJ, Poskitt KR, Whyman MR, Heather BP. A single normal ultrasonographic scan at age 65 years rules out significant aneurysm disease for life in men. Br J Surg. 2001;88:941–4.

3. Ballard DJ. Abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery: a literature review and ratings of appropriateness and necessity. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand, 1992.

4. Fleming C, Whitlock EP, Beil TL, Lederle FA. Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm: a best-evidence systematic review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142:203–11.

5. U. S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm: recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142:198–202.

6. Kent KC, Zwolak RM, Jaff MR, Hollenbeck ST, Thompson RW, Schermerhorn ML, et al. Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm: a consensus statement. J Vasc Surg. 2004;39:267–9.

7. Lederle FA, Wilson SE, Johnson GR, Reinke DB, Littooy FN, Acher CW, et al. Immediate repair compared with surveillance of small abdominal aortic aneurysms. N Engl J Med. 2002;346:1437–44.

8. Mortality results for randomised controlled trial of early elective surgery or ultrasonographic surveillance for small abdominal aortic aneurysms. UK Small Aneurysm Trial Participants. Lancet. 1998;352:1649–55.

9. Adam DJ, Mohan IV, Stuart WP, Bain M, Bradbury AW. Community and hospital outcome from ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm within the catchment area of a regional vascular surgical service. J Vasc Surg. 1999;30:922–8.

10. Prinssen M, Verhoeven EL, Buth J, Cuypers PW, van Sambeek MR, Balm R, et al., for the Dutch Randomized Endovascular Aneurysm Management (DREAM) Trial Group. A randomized trial comparing conventional and endovascular repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1607–18.

11. Greenhalgh RM, Brown LC, Kwong GP, Powell JT, Thompson SG. Comparison of endovascular aneurysm repair with open repair in patients with abdominal aortic aneurysm (EVAR trial 1), 30-day operative mortality results: randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2004;364:843–8.

12. Blankensteijn JD, de Jong SE, Prinssen M, van der Ham AC, Buth J, van Sterkenburg SM, et al., for the Dutch Randomized Endovascular Aneurysm Management (DREAM) Trial Group. Two-year outcomes after conventional or endovascular repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms. N Engl J Med. 2005;352:2398–405.

13. EVAR trial participants. Endovascular aneurysm repair and outcome in patients unfit for open repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm (EVAR trial 2): randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2005;365:2187–92.

14. Lifeline Registry of EVAR Publications Committee. Lifeline registry of endovascular aneurysm repair: long-term primary outcome measures. J Vasc Surg. 2005;42:1–10.



Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

More in Pubmed


Jan 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article