Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are other causes of aortic aneurysms?

Other causes of aortic aneurysms include:

  • Genetic/hereditary: Genetics may play a role in developing an aortic aneurysm. The risk of having an aneurysm increases if a first-degree relative also has one. The aneurysm may present at a younger age and is also at a higher risk of rupture.
  • Genetic disease: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome are two connective tissue diseases that are associated with the development of aortic aneurysm. Abnormalities of the connective tissue in the layers of the aortic wall can contribute to weakness in sections of the aorta.
  • Post-trauma: Trauma can injure the aortic wall and cause immediate damage or it may cause an area of weakness that will form an aneurysm over time.
  • Arteritis: Inflammation of blood vessels as occurs in Takayasu disease, giant cell arteritis, and relapsing polychondritis can contribute to aneurysm.
  • Mycotic (fungal) infection: A mycotic or fungal infection may be associated with immunodeficiency, IV drug abuse, syphilis, and heart valve surgery.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

Most abdominal aortic aneurysms produce no symptoms (they are asymptomatic) and are discovered incidentally when an imaging test of the abdomen (CT scan or ultrasound) is performed. They can also be detected by physical examination when the health care professional feels the abdomen and listens for a bruit, the sound made by turbulent blood flow.

Pain is the most common symptom when the aneurysm expands or ruptures. It often begins in the central abdomen and radiates to the back or flank. Other symptoms can occur depending upon where the aneurysm is located in the aorta and whether nearby structures are affected.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms can remain asymptomatic or produce minimal symptoms for years. However, a rapidly expanding abdominal aneurysm can cause sudden onset of severe, steady, and worsening middle abdominal and back or flank pain. Rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be catastrophic, even lethal, and is associated with abdominal distension, a pulsating abdominal mass, and shock due to massive blood loss.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015

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