You’re unlikely to have any symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm unless it ruptures. If the aneurysm is pressing on nearby organs, you may feel pain in your back, tummy, side or groin.
If the aneurysm does rupture, it may cause severe bleeding inside your body. This will be fatal without emergency surgery to repair it.
If your abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures you may get pain in the middle or side of your abdomen or in your groin. Or, you may feel a pulsating sensation in your abdomen. You may also have other symptoms that include:
- a rapid heartbeat
- feeling faint
- loss of consciousness
- feeling sick or vomiting
If you have severe pain in your abdomen and any of these other symptoms, you must seek urgent medical attention.
The chance of an aneurysm rupturing depends on its size. If your aneurysm is greater than 5.5cm wide, the chances of rupture are high. The risk increases with increasing size.
Because it’s unlikely that you’ll have any symptoms, an abdominal aortic aneurysm is usually diagnosed during screening. It’s sometimes picked up if you’re having tests for another condition or during a routine examination by your GP.
Your GP will examine you and ask you about your medical history. If you have an aortic aneurysm, your GP may feel a pulsating mass in your abdomen, or the aneurysm may show up on a scan.
If your GP thinks you may have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you may need to have other tests in hospital. An ultrasound scan can provide a clear image of your abdominal aorta to identify an aneurysm and measure it. A CT or MRI scan can provide images of your aorta to show the exact position of the aneurysm.
If you're a man over 65, you’re likely to be invited to be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm at your GP surgery or local hospital.
Your treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm will depend on your symptoms and the size of your aneurysm.
If you have a small aneurysm, your doctor won’t usually advise you to have surgery. However, you will need regular ultrasound checks to see if the aneurysm is expanding. How often you need these checks will depend on the size of your aneurysm.
It's also important to manage your condition by changing your lifestyle and treating any condition that may be causing the aneurysm. For example, high blood pressure. If you smoke, you should also consider quitting, and losing weight if you’re overweight.
Your doctor will advise you to have elective (planned) surgery if your aneurysm grows to 5.5cm. You may also need surgery if your aneurysm is causing symptoms, because this can mean it’s growing fast.
You will need to have emergency surgery if your aneurysm ruptures as this is a serious medical emergency.
There are two main types of operation for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Open surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, involves your surgeon opening your abdomen to reach your aorta. They will insert a graft into the weak area of your aorta. The graft is likely to be a synthetic graft made out of an elastic material. Blood will flow through the graft inside your aorta instead of going through the aneurysm, which will prevent the aneurysm getting bigger.
Endovascular stent graft replacement
Endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) involves your surgeon feeding a tube through an artery in your groin and through your aorta to the aneurysm. This is called a stent. Your surgeon will use X-ray images to guide the placement of the stent. The stent will be covered with synthetic graft material that will bond with the wall of your aorta. Blood will then flow through the stent instead of the weakened aneurysm. However, stents aren't suitable for everyone. It will depend on the location of the aneurysm and other factors. Ask your surgeon for more information.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms develop when the wall of your aorta weakens, causing it to bulge or dilate. Doctors don’t know exactly why some people’s aorta weakens. However, it’s probably due to a variety of factors.
Many people with an abdominal aortic aneurysm have atherosclerosis. This is a process in which fatty deposits build up on the inside of your arteries and weaken the artery walls.
You’re more likely to develop an aneurysm, if you:
You can take steps to reduce your risk of an aortic aneurysm by:
- not smoking
- having your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly and treated if necessary
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a healthy diet
It’s important to have regular medical check-ups if you have a family history of arterial disease. Also, make sure you attend any screening appointments so that your doctor can pick up any problems early.
I have an abdominal aortic aneurysm and I've heard that they can rupture. What does this mean and what can I do to help prevent it happening?
An abdominal aortic aneurysm can burst if the weakened artery wall of your aorta can't contain the pressure of the blood inside. A ruptured aneurysm is very serious and requires emergency surgery to treat it. It’s important to have regular check-ups and change your lifestyle to help prevent this.
If you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you will need to attend regular appointments with your doctor to check it’s not at risk of bursting. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is extremely serious. About nine out of 10 people who have a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm will die as a result.
Your abdominal aortic aneurysm is more likely to rupture if you smoke or have:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- high blood pressure
- a large abdominal aortic aneurysm – over 5.5cm
- an abdominal aortic aneurysm that is growing fast
The following will help to prevent your abdominal aortic aneurysm from rupturing.
- Make sure you have regular check-ups to monitor your abdominal aortic aneurysm. The screening service will let you know how often you need to have a check-up ultrasound scan.
- If you smoke, you should try to quit.
- If you have high blood pressure, take steps to lower it. Weight loss and exercise can help with this.
Ask your GP for information about the support available to help you quit smoking, lose excess weight and increase the amount of exercise you take. There may be local services in your area that can help you to achieve your goals.
What can I do to make my recovery easier after having surgery to treat an abdominal aortic aneurysm?
Aim to be as fit and healthy as possible before your operation and prepare your home for when you return.
Before you go into hospital there are several things that you can do to make your recovery quicker and easier.
It’s important to stop smoking as smoking can increase your chances of getting a chest infection, which will slow your recovery. If you're overweight, your surgeon may recommend a weight-loss programme because being overweight can also slow your recovery.
It's a good idea to prepare your home for when you return from hospital. This may involve rearranging your furniture to make it easier to move around and placing items that you use a lot at arm level. This is so you don't have to reach for them. It's also a good idea to stock up on non-perishable foods, such as frozen or tinned items. That way, you won’t need to go shopping immediately after your surgery.
Open surgery for abdominal aortic aneurysm is a major operation. You will probably stay in hospital for around eight to 10 days and you may be off work for about six to 12 weeks. If you have endovascular aneurysm repair surgery you’re likely to be in hospital for three to five days. And you will most probably be off work for around a month. You may want to have books, CDs or DVDs at home to keep you occupied while you recover.
What is Marfan syndrome?
Marfan syndrome is a condition that affects the way your body produces fibres that make up the connective tissue in your body.
People with Marfan syndrome have a defect in a gene that controls the production of elastic fibres in their body. The elastic fibres (connective tissue) hold your joints and organs in place and help control how your body grows. Because connective tissue is found throughout your body, the effects of Marfan syndrome can be widespread. For example, it can involve your heart, lungs, skeleton, skin and eyes.
About one in 5,000 people have Marfan syndrome. People can inherit the condition, meaning that they get it from a parent who also has the syndrome.
If you have Marfan syndrome, you're more at risk of getting an aortic aneurysm earlier because the elastic tissue of your aorta isn't produced correctly. This makes your aorta weaker so it widens more easily.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 13 June 2012
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 19 November 2014
- Hole JR and Koos KA. Human anatomy. Dubuque, IA: Wm C Brown; 1994:25–26
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm – endovascular stent-grafts, NICE Technology Appraisal Guidance (February 2009). www.nice.org.uk, published February 2009
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 16 May 2012
- Simon C, Everitt H, van Dorp F and Burkes M. Oxford handbook of general practice. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014. DOI:10.1093/med/9780199671038.003.0010
- NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme. http://aaa.screening.nhs.uk, accessed 25 January 2015
- Laparoscopic repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), August 2007. www.nice.org.uk
- Map of Medicine. Hypertension. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2012 (Issue 4)
- Map of Medicine. Dyslipidaemia. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2012 (Issue 4)
- Having heart surgery. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, published 2013
- Endovascular abdominal aortic aneurysm repair versus open surgery: a review of the clinical and cost-effectiveness. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. www.cadth.ca, published 27 September 2013
- Ramrakha P and Hill J. Oxford handbook of cardiology. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012. doi:10.1093/med/9780199643219.001.0001
- Marfan syndrome. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 10 December 2013
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2015.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way