Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (cont.)

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How is an abdominal aortic aneurysm diagnosed clinically?

Physical examination can be the initial way the diagnosis of abdominal aortic aneurysm is made. The health care professional may be able to feel a pulsatile mass in the center of the abdomen and make the clinical diagnosis. In obese patients with a large girth, physical exam is less helpful. In very thin patients, the aorta can often be seen to pulsate under the skin and this may be a normal finding. Listening with a stethoscope may also reveal a bruit or abnormal sound from turbulence of blood within the aneurysm.

What tests help in the diagnosis of an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

In about 90% of the cases, X-rays of the abdomen show calcium deposits in the aneurysm wall. But plain X-rays of the abdomen cannot determine the size and the extent of the aneurysm. Ultrasonography usually gives a clear picture of the size of an aneurysm. Ultrasound has about 98% accuracy in measuring the size of the aneurysm and is safe and noninvasive. Computerized tomography of the abdomen is highly accurate in determining the size and extent of the aneurysm and its location in the aorta. To help plan repair, if needed, it is important to know whether the aorta is above or below where the renal arteries branch off to go to the kidneys and whether the aorta extends towards the chest or down into the iliac arteries into the legs. CT scans require dye to be injected to evaluate the blood vessels (including the aorta). Patients with kidney disease or dye allergies may not be candidates for CT. MRI/MRA (magnetic resonance imaging and arteriography) may be an alternative.

An aortogram, an X-ray study where dye is directly injected into the aorta, was the test of choice, but CT and MRI have taken its place.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/10/2012

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