Abdominal aortic aneurysms: Triple A, double trouble
The aorta is the largest artery in the body; it's also the strongest. But size and strength are not enough to protect this crucial blood vessel; in fact, the aorta is one of the body's most vulnerable arteries.
Although many things can go wrong with the aorta, the most common is an aneurysm; it's an unfamiliar term, but it's a well-chosen name based on the ancient Greek word that means "to widen."
Any part of the aorta can develop a widening, or aneurysm, but most occur in the lower part of the artery as it travels through the abdomen, carrying blood to the legs (see figure). Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are rare in young people, but the prevalence rises steadily in men above 55 and in women above 70. In all, men are 5 to 10 times more likely than women to have an AAA. While many are harmless, others can rupture, usually with deadly results. That's why AAAs are responsible for at least 9,000 deaths in the United States each year, making them our 13th leading killer. Most victims are men over 65. Fortunately, though, new advances in diagnosis and therapy are dramatically improving the management of this age-old problem.