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Surgery / General Surgery: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge in the aorta in the abdomen. The aorta is the main blood vessel from the heart that supplies blood to all organs.

Aneurysms are caused by a weakening in or damage of the wall of a blood vessel. Several factors are known to contribute to this condition, including: atherosclerosis, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and inflammation or infection.

Although aneurysms may occur in any blood vessel, they most commonly occur in the abdomen below the renal arteries. An aneurysm may continue to expand until it bursts - a life-threatening event. The goal of surgery is to repair the aneurysm before the aorta ruptures.

How are aneurysms treated?

Traditional surgical repair of an aneurysm requires open surgery in which a large incision is made from just below the breastbone to the top of the pubic bone. The aneurysm is opened and a vascular graft is sewn in place. Open surgery requires patients to be hospitalized for a week and to recuperate at home for four to six weeks.

Are there less invasive procedures ?

Washington University surgeons are expert in performing minimally invasive repair of aneurysms through endovascular (within the blood vessels) procedures. In this procedure, two small incisions are made in the groin. A delivery catheter is guided via an X-ray imaging device through a blood vessel in the leg into the aorta. The graft is placed inside the aneurysm. This endovascular procedure requires patients to stay in the hospital for approximately two days, although some patients have been released as early as 24 hours after undergoing this procedure. Most patients are able to resume their normal activities after only two weeks.

What is the success rate ?

Approximately 70 percent of patients who undergo an aneurysm procedure at Barnes-Jewish Hospital are now being treated with this technique. Survival for patients undergoing AAA repair at the hospital is 98.5 percent, one of the best survival rates in the country.

What is the prevalance of AAA ?

AAA is the fifth leading cause of death in men over age 70 and the thirteenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. Vascular surgeons work in conjunction with Vascular and Interventional radiologists at the university to perform these procedures.

How do I learn more ?

For more information about AAA, physicians and patients may email:

  • Brian G. Rubin, MD
  • Luis A. Sanchez, MD, or
  • Gregorio A. Sicard, MD

    Emails should be sent in non-emergency situations only.

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    Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine