What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the aorta, which is the main artery in the abdomen. The aorta is a blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to much of the body, including the intestines and kidneys and legs.
The most common cause of an aneurysm is atherosclerosis, which is caused by fat deposits in the vessel wall from decades of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or smoking. Atherosclerosis weakens the vessel wall and the wall begins to thin and balloon outward causing the aorta to increase in size. Aortic aneurysms are typically found in older patients and those with relatives with the same condition.
Two of the most common symptoms of AAA are a deep, constant pain in the abdomen and pulsating feeling near the navel.
How does IR treat AAA?
Your doctor might want to treat an aneurysm if it grows too quickly or becomes too large. Treatment is also indicated if an aneurysm causes pain in the chest, abdomen, or legs.
Interventional radiologists treat AAA by inserting a stent-graft into the aorta to help support the vessel wall and prevent the aneurysm from growing larger. This treatment helps you avoid major surgery, which means a longer recovery time and increased risk of complications.
Using image-guided technology, the IR inserts a catheter into the femoral artery, the large artery in the thigh and the main arterial supply to the thigh and leg. Using this artery as a safe path to the aorta, the stent-graft is inserted into the damaged part of your aorta, to strengthen the walls of the aorta.
What should I expect during recovery from the interventional treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysm?
Usually, you’ll need to keep your legs straight for two hours and likely recover overnight in the hospital. If no complications occur, you’ll go home the next morning and see your doctors in clinic for routine follow-up.
Your doctor will provide explicit instructions for your post-treatment care. There is no large scar, no pain killers required and no significant time off work. Follow-up imaging is required to ensure that the stent-graft remains in good position and that the aneurysm does not continue to grow.