Harvard Heart Letter

Abdominal aortic aneurysms: What you need to know

Targeted screening and improved repair techniques may minimize the danger of this uncommon condition.

With a diameter roughly the size of a garden hose, the aorta is the body's largest artery. It curves out of the heart through the chest, passing straight down the center of the body before dividing into the arteries that serve the legs (see illustration).

Like other blood vessels in the body, the aorta can develop atherosclerosis. Harmful LDL cholesterol lodges in the vessel wall, creating plaque buildup and damaging the artery wall. The constant stress of blood flowing through the aorta—exacerbated by high blood pressure—can cause the artery's wall to bulge where there is a weak spot. This bulge is most likely to form in the abdominal area and is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm, AAA, or "triple A."

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