February 19, 2010, Newsletter Issue #41: Baby Boomers: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm and its Complications

Tip of the Week

Many of the baby boomers are hitting the 60-year mark. One of the common medical problems for people that are about 60 years old (predominantly men), is abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). While anyone can have an aneurysm, there is a certain group of people who are at a higher risk:
Men 60 years old or older (five times more likely to have an aneurysm than women)SmokersOverweight peoplePeople with high blood pressurePeople with high cholesterolGenetics
Abdominal aortic aneurysms generally present no symptoms. In most cases, an AAA is only found through a CT scan or an abdominal ultrasound. Abdominal aortic aneurysms can be fatal if not treated. If an aneurysm is small (less than 5cm), doctors will watch the progress of the aneurysm. If the aneurysm increases too fast or enlarges to the 5cm point, surgery will be needed to correct the aneurysm. Once an aneurysm reaches the 5cm point, the chances of it breaking open are much greater.

Whether a person is male or female,  anyone 60 years or older should have a CT scan done to check for aneurysms, especially if the age is combined with any of the above risk factors.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery, while risky (as is any surgery), is usually successful. There are very little risk factors for an otherwise healthy person undergoing this surgery. The danger lies in allowing the aneurysm becoming larger than 5cm or if the aneurysm breaks open. Chances of death once an aneurysm breaks open is exponentially higher.

If an aneurysm breaks and the patient lives through the break and the surgery, the shock to the body may cause other complications, such as adult respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS) and renal failure. Both complications can be fatal, though ARDS has a higher fatality rate than renal failure. With special treatment using a ventilator, ARDS can be overcome.

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