October 4, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Arthur J DeMarsico, D.O. contributes to topics such as Vascular Surgery.
Like Barnegat, New Jersey, resident Amado Velez, most people who develop an aortic aneurysm don’t experience symptoms.
The retiree’s abdominal aortic aneurysm (sometimes dubbed a “Triple A”) meant a dangerous ballooning had developed in the lower portion his aortic artery carrying oxygen-rich blood to his abdomen and legs. Because Amado had been monitored for other health conditions, physicians caught his Triple A before it ruptured—a scenario that leads to the deaths of about 10,000 Americans each year.
In the aorta, the body’s main artery, an aneurysm can also develop in the thoracic (chest) region. Either way, signs—if they appear at all—can resemble those due to other ailments, says vascular surgeon Arthur DeMarsico, D.O. FACOS.
What can you watch for?
“Symptoms include back or abdominal pain, feeling full early during eating, or back or side discomfort,” Dr. DeMarsico explains. “It’s very vague, which is why so many aortic aneurysms aren’t detected until someone comes to the Emergency Department with significant abdominal pain.”
Risk factors for aortic aneurysms
Certain people are more prone to developing an aortic aneurysm than others. According to Dr. DeMarsico, risk factors include:
- Gender: Aortic aneurysms affect four times as many men as women.
- Age: Triple As like Amado’s are most likely in adults over age 65.
- Genetics: Aneurysms can run in families, and 10 percent of those with a Triple A have a family history of the condition.
- Lifestyle: Smoking, weight lifting or using stimulants such as cocaine can significantly raise the odds of an aortic aneurysm.
- Health conditions: Other medical problems that raise the odds of aortic aneurysms include obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, some infections and trauma from car accidents or falls.
Screening to reveal an aortic aneurysm includes imaging tests, and certain people, including those with a family history of Triple A, should consider being screened, Dr. DeMarsico advises.
“Medicare covers a one-time screening if patients have a family history; cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol; and have smoked over 100 cigarettes in their lifetime,” he says, adding that anyone over 65 who might be eligible should talk to their doctor.
Proactive measures to prevent aortic aneurysms
First and foremost, if you’re a smoker, stop. “Smokers have a four-times higher risk,” Dr. DeMarsico says.
Other preventive steps include controlling weight, eating a heart-healthy diet and avoiding stimulants. Managing stress levels can also help by lowering blood pressure.
“Diet and exercise are the things we advocate,” Dr. DeMarsico says. “It may not prevent someone from having an aneurysm, but it certainly makes them a more fit candidate for surgery to repair it if they need to have that done.”
Dr. DeMarisco practices in Manahawkin. To make an appointment, call 609-978-0778.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.