An aneurysm is a stretched artery that can occur anywhere in the body.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm ( known as AAA) is a swelling of the aorta - the large vessel which transports blood from the heart to the lower body. The aorta has one to 1.5 litres of blood passing through it every minute.
An AAA is diagnosed when the abdominal aorta has swollen from its normal diameter of around 2.5cm to 5.5cm or more, then it starts to tear, causing dizziness - the rapid loss of blood had led to a steep drop in his blood pressure. If it ruptures, it's difficult to get enough blood to keep the heart pumping and the brain supplied, so the patient can bleed to death in minutes. Only half of patients with an AAA that starts to leak or burst are alive when they reach hospital and only half of those survivors come through emergency surgery.
It's not known exactly what causes the blood vessel wall to weaken and bulge, but ageing, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries are known as risk factors. Smoking is another big risk factor. Blood vessels are weakened and the elastic tissue slackens, making a bulge more likely. Family history is important, too. If you've had a parent or sibling die of an AAA, you're at six times greater risk.
But there are usually no warning signs until it's too late.
Emergency or not, the surgery is performed in the same way. The aorta is clamped to temporarily stop the blood supply to the lower body, while a fabric sleeve is attached around the aorta to strengthen the walls and stop blood leaking. This can be done from inside the aorta, too - a type of surgery called endovascular surgery.
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