On call: A recommended screening test for men

On call

A recommended screening test for men

Q. I'll be turning 65 in a few months. I understand that men my age should have a test to check for bulging blood vessels. Can you explain the test and tell me if I should have it?

A. The test is an abdominal ultrasound, and it's a painless, risk-free way for doctors to obtain images of structures in the abdomen, including the body's largest artery, the aorta. Using the test for routine screening in American men is a 2005 recommendation of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

After receiving blood from the heart's main pumping chamber, the aorta heads up toward the neck, then turns down to run through the chest and abdomen, where it is located just in front of the spine. In adult men, the healthy aorta is no more than 3 centimeters (cm) — or about 1.2 inches — wide. In some people, however, the wall of the aorta weakens and the artery stretches to an abnormal width. When the aorta's diameter exceeds 3 cm in the abdomen, doctors diagnose it as an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

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