Harvard Men's Health Watch

Screening savvy: You're likely at low risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm

A bulging abdominal aortic aneurysm can be deadly, but only certain men should be checked for it with ultrasound.

The aorta is the Amazon River of arteries. It rises from the heart to feed a multitude of lesser vessels that branch through the chest and abdomen. Over a lifetime, the portion that plunges downward toward the kidneys and legs—the abdominal aorta—can become weakened by disease in the vessel wall. Gradually it may bulge outward, forming an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). If the bulge ruptures like the wall of an old tire, the result is often fatal.

A simple ultrasound scan can reveal a hidden aneurysm in an otherwise healthy man. The test is done to see if an AAA exists, to monitor it, and to decide when it should be fixed. The key is knowing your risk and getting checked if it makes sense.

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