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Information from Your Family Doctor

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA): What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Apr 1;73(7):1205-1206.

  See related article on abdominal aortic aneurysm.

What is an AAA?

The main blood vessel in your body is the aorta (say: a-OR-ta). It carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body. It is a long blood vessel that reaches from your chest into your abdomen. The part of the aorta in your abdomen is called the “abdominal aorta.”

An aneurysm (say: AN-yur-izm) is a weak area in a blood vessel. If a blood vessel weakens, it starts to swell like a balloon. If the aneurysm grows too large, your aorta may burst.

What causes an AAA?

The most common causes are smoking, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis (say: ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis). Atherosclerosis is when fat builds up in a blood vessel. This is sometimes called hardening of the arteries.

Who gets an AAA?

Aneurysms are more common in older people and in men. Your risk of getting an AAA is higher if you have smoked or had high blood pressure for a long time. It also may run in families.

What are the symptoms of an AAA?

Most people have no symptoms. When the blood vessel walls start to leak, you may feel pain in your back, stomach, buttocks, groin, testicle, or leg.

How can I tell if I have an AAA?

If you have a higher risk of an AAA, or if you have any of the symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor may order a test called an ultrasound. It can help measure the size of your aorta.

How is an AAA treated?

If your aneurysm is large or is growing quickly, you will most likely need surgery. If your aneurysm is small, your doctor may watch it using the ultrasound.

It is important to stop the aneurysm from bursting. You can help by quitting smoking and by working with your doctor to control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

Society for Vascular Surgery

Web site:

University of Michigan

Web site: (click on Clinical Information)

Cleveland Clinic

Web site:

Mayo Clinic

Web site:

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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