Jan. 31, 2005 -- You don't have to feel any symptoms -- and then, suddenly, you die.
That's what can happen if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. That is the fancy name for a weak spot in the huge artery -- the aorta -- that carries blood through the abdomen. Bulges in the weak spot can suddenly burst. That is very likely to be fatal even with surgery after the rupture.
Ultrasound tests can show whether there is a dangerous bulge -- aneurysm -- in the abdominal aorta. But fixing these bulges can be risky. Nearly a third of patients suffer complications. Four out of 100 die before leaving the hospital.
So who really needs this risky surgery? A U.S. Preventive Services Task Force took a hard look at the findings of four large studies that offered abdominal aortic aneurysm screening to men and women.
Men are much more likely to have abdominal aortic aneurysms than women, the panel finds. The condition is most likely to occur in people who smoke. Nearly all deaths from a ruptured aneurysm occur in people over 65.
The bottom line:
- If you are a man -- and if you've ever smoked -- you should get an ultrasound screening to see if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
- If you are a man who's never smoked, the panel advises neither for nor against screening. If you're worried about having an abdominal aortic aneurysm, talk to your doctor about the risks as well as the benefits of screening.
- If you're a woman, the panel advises against ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms.
- Anybody with abnormal findings on a medical examination or with symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysm should get ultrasound screening.
The recommendations appear in the Feb. 1 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.