Abdominal aortic aneurysmOverview

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy.

An AAA can be dangerous if it is not spotted early on.

It can get bigger over time and could burst (rupture), causing life-threatening bleeding.

Men aged 65 and over are most at risk of AAAs. This is why men are invited for screening to check for an AAA when they're 65.

AAAs do not usually cause any obvious symptoms, and are often only picked up during screening or tests carried out for another reason.

Some people with an AAA have:

  • a pulsing sensation in the tummy (like a heartbeat)
  • tummy pain that does not go away
  • lower back pain that does not go away

If an AAA bursts, it can cause:

Call 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else develops symptoms of a burst AAA.

When to get medical help

Make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible if you have symptoms, especially if you're at a higher risk of an AAA.

An ultrasound scan of your tummy may be done to check if you have one.

Call 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else develops symptoms of a burst AAA.

An AAA can form if the sides of the aorta weaken and balloon outwards. It's not always clear why this happens, but there are things that increase the risk.

People at a higher risk of getting an AAA include:

  • men aged 65 or over – AAAs are up to 6 times more common in men than women, and the risk of getting one goes up as you get older
  • people who smoke – if you smoke or used to smoke, you're up to 15 times more likely to get an AAA
  • people with high blood pressure – high blood pressure can double your risk of getting an AAA
  • people with a parent, sibling or child with an AAA – you're about 4 times more likely to get an AAA if a close relative has had one

Speak to your GP if you're worried you may be at risk of an AAA. They may suggest having a scan to check if you have one and making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of an AAA.

The recommended treatment for an AAA depends on how big it is.

Treatment is not always needed straight away if the risk of an AAA bursting is low.

Treatment for a:

  • small AAA (3cm to 4.4cm across) – ultrasound scans are recommended every year to check if it's getting bigger; you'll be advised about healthy lifestyle changes to help stop it growing
  • medium AAA (4.5cm to 5.4cm) – ultrasound scans are recommended every 3 months to check if it's getting bigger; you'll also be advised about healthy lifestyle changes
  • large AAA (5.5cm or more) – surgery to stop it getting bigger or bursting is usually recommended

Ask your doctor if you're not sure what size your AAA is.

There are several things you can do to reduce your chances of getting an AAA or help stop one getting bigger.

These include:

If you have a condition that increases your risk of an AAA, such as high blood pressure, your GP may also recommend taking tablets to treat this.

Screening for AAAs

In England, screening for AAAs is offered to men during the year they turn 65. This can help spot a swelling in the aorta early on, when it can be treated.

The test involves a quick and painless ultrasound scan to see how big your aorta is.

If you're a man over 65 and you have not been screened, you can request a test by contacting your local AAA screening service directly.

Women and men under 65 are not routinely invited for screening. But if you think you might have a higher risk of an AAA, talk to your GP about the possibility of having a scan.

Read more about screening for an AAA.

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2017
Next review due: 04/07/2020