Can you tell me about stomach aneurysms? My father died from one about 10 years ago and I wonder if I am at increased risk of developing one myself.
While you do not hear much about them, stomach aneurysms, also known as abdominal aortic aneurysms, are very dangerous and the 10th leading cause of death in men over 55. They also tend to run in families, so having had a parent with this condition makes you much more vulnerable yourself.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a weak area in the lower portion of the aorta, which is the major artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. As blood flows through the aorta, the weak area bulges like a balloon and can burst if it gets too big, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. In fact, nearly 80% of AAAs that rupture are fatal, but the good news is that more than 9 out of 10 detected early are treatable.
Around 200,000 people are diagnosed with AAAs each year, but estimates suggest that another two million people may have it but not realize it. The factors that can put you at increased risk are:
- Smoking: 90% of people with an AAA smoke or have smoked.
- Age: Your risk of getting an AAA increases significantly after age 65 in men, and after age 70 in women.
- Family history: Having a parent or sibling who has had an AAA can increase your risk to around one in four.
- Gender: AAAs are five times more likely in men than in women.
- Race: White people develop AAA more commonly than people of other ethnicities.
- Health factors: Atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels also increase your risk.
Detection and Treatment
Because AAAs usually start small and enlarge slowly, they rarely show any symptoms, making them difficult to detect. However, large AAAs can sometimes cause a throbbing or pulsation in the abdomen or cause a deep pain in your lower back or side.
The best way to detect an AAA is to get a simple and painless 10-minute ultrasound screening test. All men over age 65 that have ever smoked, and anyone over 60 with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with an AAA, should talk to their doctor about getting screened.
You should also know that most health insurance plans cover AAA screenings. Medicare typically covers screenings to individuals with a family history of AAAs and for men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes during their life.
If an AAA is detected during screening, how it is treated will depend on its size, rate of growth and your general health. If caught in the early stages when the aneurysm is small, it can be monitored and treated with medication. If the aneurysm is large or enlarging rapidly, you will probably need surgery.
While some risk factors like your age, gender, race and family history are uncontrollable, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from AAA. For starters, if you smoke, quitting may reduce your level of risk. Visit SmokeFree.gov
or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for smoking cessation resources. You also need to keep tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If these are high consult your doctor on how to lower them through diet, exercise and if necessary, medication.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.