Health Library

Categories > Heart Health > Other heart conditions

A silent threat

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a weak, bulging area on the wall of the aorta, the body’s largest artery. It’s often found by accident. That’s because most aneurysms have no symptoms. Your doctor may discover you have an AAA during a routine exam, for example, or as you’re undergoing a CT scan for another reason. Aneurysms can be life threatening if they rupture. But an AAA diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be rushed into emergency surgery. Fortunately, most aortic aneurysms grow slowly and don’t reach the rupture point. Many start small and stay small, but others expand over time. Your doctor will closely monitor your aneurysm so surgical repair can be planned if needed. In the meantime, treatment may depend on the aneurysm’s size:

  • Small (less than 4 cm)—You probably have no symptoms, but you may need to take a beta-blocker, a drug that reduces the force of blood being ejected from the heart. If you smoke, you’ll need to quit. Your doctor also may prescribe a cholesterol-reducing drug.
  • Medium (4 to 5.5 cm)—In addition to prescribing medicine, your doctor will discuss with you the benefits and risks of watching and waiting versus surgery.
  • Large (more than 5.5 cm)—An aneurysm that’s large, growing quickly, leaking or feeling tender or painful will probably need to be repaired with either surgery or a minimally invasive procedure.