An abdominal aortic aneurysm, the most common type of aortic aneurysm, occurs when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs becomes abnormally large or balloons outward. Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and genetic links. A ruptured abdominal aneurysm can be deadly, with a mortality rate of more than 50%.
Aneurysms can develop slowly over many years and often have no symptoms. If an aneurysm expands rapidly, tears open, or blood leaks along the wall of blood vessels, symptoms may develop, such as swelling of the stomach. Anyone can develop an aneurysm, but it is mostly seen in men over 60 with the key risk factors. "It's silent, until it gets to a certain size and ruptures," Kasper said.
Several years ago, the government approved an initiative that enables Medicare patients to get free ultrasound screenings that could detect potential aneurysms, Kasper says. Still, doctors and patients must communicate about the need for monitoring of patients at risk for aneurysms, he adds.
"A vast majority of aneurysms are asymptomatic and found when a test is done for another reason, and the patient comes in and has a CAT scan or ultrasound, and the radiologist looks at it," Kasper said.
The importance of timely interaction for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is reflected by mortality rates, says Michael Dalsing, MD, a vascular surgeon with Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, which also initiated a rapid response system for vascular care at IU Health.
Under the rapid response approach, the hospital can review CAT scans on a secure website before the patient is transferred from the emergency department, he says.