Aortic Aneurysms

What are Aortic Aneurysms?

The aorta is the main vessel that delivers blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The artery is termed as becoming an aneurysm when it starts to swell and bulge. The obvious concern with having an aneurysm is that it can burst, which is often fatal. Aortic Aneurysms that affect the main artery in the body, the aorta, usually occur in men over the age of 60 but can also be found in women and younger patients. You can get an Aortic aneurysm in any part of the aorta, but it is most common below the kidney arteries, also known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm or ‘AAA’. Aortic aneurysms can be repaired by either minimally invasive ‘keyhole’ surgery or surgery involving an incision in the abdomen, however the most suitable type of repair depends on a number of factors, including the shape of the aneurysm and your overall health.

Risk factors

No one knows the exact reason that aneurysms develop but there are several factors that can contribute to or increase the risk of forming one. Aortic Aneurysms can be due to genetic causes and can run in families. Conditions which cause weakness of the artery wall can also predispose the developing aneurysms, often at a younger age than usual. The biggest risk factors include:


Most AAAs do not cause any symptoms until they rupture or burst. However, sometimes before this happens they may cause:


Most AAAs do not cause any symptoms until they rupture or burst. However, sometimes before this happens they may cause:


Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) are often detected incidentally when the patient has a scan for other reasons or when their doctor feels the artery is swollen during a physical examination. Aneurysms are best managed by Vascular Surgeons who can keep a close eye on the artery with regular scans & physical examinations to minor the progress. The following scans are the most common when investigating abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA):

CT Scan

The CT scan consists of lying still on a table while the table moves through a doughnut-shaped machine while simultaneously generating X-rays. When detecting or investigation AAA’s, contrast material is usually injected into the veins in the hands so that the AAA is easier to see/detect on the CT pictures. The CT offers better quality and more accurate images than the ultrasound but unlike the ultrasound, there is a little bit of radiation involved in the scan which is why it’s not used routinely to regularly monitor aneurysms.

Abdominal ultrasound

This is a completely painless, non-invasive scan where an ultrasound probe (transducer) is placed on the abdomen to have a look inside the abdomen and detect the size of the AAA.


Similar to the CT, an MRI scan consists of lying on a table as its moved through a machine. Unlike the CT, the MRI scan takes longer and instead of quickly passing through a doughnut, the MRI scan involved lying still while being inserted into a machine for a period of time (sometimes more than 15minutes) which can make some people claustrophobic. The MRI has the advantage, like ultrasound, of not requiring any radiation as it uses magnetic impulses to take pictures. It is the least common scan when monitoring or planning on treating AAA’s.

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