Harvard Men's Health Watch

AAA screening

Q. I am a 72-year-old male in excellent health. I have been diagnosed with a 3.7-centimeter aortic aneurysm. My doctor recommends an ultrasound every six months. Are six-month checks adequate? And when should surgery be considered?

A. I assume this is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and that it was detected by a screening exam, not because you had a symptom such as back pain. Indeed, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening all men who have ever smoked and are between 65 and 75. The test is a simple, entirely safe abdominal ultrasound, and it need not be repeated if it's normal.

But what should you do if your exam is not normal? In your case, the answer is easy. The normal aorta is about 2 centimeters (cm) wide in the abdomen, so your aneurysm is very small, and periodic follow-up exams will suffice. Be sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are excellent, avoid tobacco in all forms, and be alert for back pain that might signal enlargement of your AAA.

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