The aorta is the largest artery in the body. The abdominal portion of the aorta carries blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs. Sometimes the walls of the aorta weaken and bulge in one area. This is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). AAAs are most often caused by atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of arteries, and high blood pressure.
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Reasons for Procedure ^
Surgery to repair an AAA is often done when the aneurysm:
- Causes physical symptoms such as abdominal pain
- Reaches a size of 2 inches (5 centimeters) across or has been growing rapidly. Smaller aneurysms are watched closely. They are rarely repaired with surgery.
- Has burst—Surgery must be done right away.
Preventive AAA surgery generally has a good outcome for people who are relatively healthy. Emergency surgery to fix an AAA rupture has a much lower survival rate, due to the rapid loss of blood.
Possible Complications ^
Your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
- Problems from general anesthesia, including lightheadedness, low blood pressure, and wheezing
- Damage to organs
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect ^
The procedure varies. It can be done before a rupture as a preventive measure or after a rupture on an emergency basis. The preventive procedure is outlined here.
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may need detailed pictures of your abdomen, heart, and lungs. These can be made with:
Your doctor may also need a record of your heart activity. This can be made with an electrocardiogram.
Your doctor may ask you to see a cardiologist—a doctor who specializes in heart conditions. The cardiologist will check your heart before surgery.
You may need to stop taking certain medications 1 week before surgery. Talk to your doctor about your regular medications.
On the day of the procedure, you will be given an antibiotic by IV. You may also be given a laxative or enema to clear out your bowels.
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV.
Description of Procedure
This may be done as an open surgery or using an endovascular approach.
In an open surgery, an incision is made from the breastbone to below the belly button. The aorta is clamped slightly above and below the aneurysm. Any blood clot on the inside of the aorta is removed. An artificial wall is used to strengthen the area. This is called a graft. The graft will be stitched to the normal aorta on either side. Then, the clamps are removed. The wound is closed with stitches.
For the endovascular repair, a small incision will be made in your leg. A sleeve will be inserted in this incision and into the aorta. It will be advanced to the aneurysm. The sleeve will take pressure off the wall and prevent it from expanding or leaking. The incision will then be closed.
An artificial graft is stitched to the aorta.
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How Long Will It Take?
About 4-6 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. Most people will be sore after the procedure and will be given pain medications.
Average Hospital Stay
The length of your hospital stay depends on your overall condition. Ask your doctor how long you should plan to stay.
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
- You will be sent to the intensive care unit for monitoring.
You will have tubes in place, which may include the following:
- IV—provides medications and fluids
- Urinary catheter—monitors urine output
- Arterial catheter—monitors blood pressure
- Central venous catheter—monitors pressure in the heart
- Epidural catheter—provides pain medication
- Nasogastric tube—inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove secretions and provide nutrition until your intestines regain normal function
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- To help prevent further problems, you and your doctor will need to work to increase your overall health. This can be done with medications and a healthy lifestyle. If you are a smoker, you should talk to your doctor about quitting.
- Follow your doctor's instructions.
Call Your Doctor ^
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the incision site
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- New abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Any change of color or sensation in your legs or feet
- Burning, pain, or problems when urinating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramps or diarrhea
- Unusual fatigue or depression
- Disorientation or confusion
- Numbness or tingling in the legs
- New, unexplained symptoms
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH
The Society for Vascular Surgery
The Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 22, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2016.
Hall SW. Endovascular repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms (Home Study Program). AORN Journal. 2003;77(3):630-642.
6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/2/2014