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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). AAA's are most often caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and high blood pressure .
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What to Expect
The procedure varies. It can be done before a rupture (preventive) or after a rupture (emergency). The preventive procedure is outlined here.
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do some of the following:
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
- Abdominal ultrasound —a test that uses sound waves to examine organs in the abdomen
- Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
- Chest x-ray —a photograph-like image of the heart and lungs that uses a small dose of radiation to create a picture
Your doctor may also ask you to see a cardiologist (a doctor who specializes in heart conditions). The cardiologist will check your heart before surgery.
Before the procedure:
- You may need to stop taking certain medicines one week before. Talk to your doctor about your regular medicine, especially:
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood-thinning medicines (eg, clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), or ticlopidine (Ticlid))
On the day of the procedure, you will be given an antibiotic by IV (a needle in your hand or arm). 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
In most cases, an incision is made from the breastbone to below the belly button. The doctor clamps the aorta slightly above and below the aneurysm. Any blood clot on the inside of the aorta is removed. An artificial wall made of Dacron 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.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
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 medicines.
Average Hospital Stay
This varies depending 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:
- Urinary catheter—monitors urine output
- Arterial catheter—monitors blood pressure
- Central venous catheter—monitors pressure in the heart
- Epidural catheter—provides pain medicine
- 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:
- Follow any discharge instructions to care for the wound.
- Gradually return to your normal activities.
- To help prevent further problems, you and your doctor will need to work to increase your overall health. Atherosclerosis and high blood pressure should be managed carefully. This can be done with medicines and a healthful lifestyle. If you are a smoker, you should talk to your doctor about quitting.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA). American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Doctor.org website. Available at:
. Updated July 2010. Accessed November 1, 2010.
Aneurysm, aortic. American Heart Association Web site. Available at:
. Accessed June 3, 2008.