What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (or AAA as it is commonly referred to) is a balloon-like swelling of the aorta, the main artery leading away from your heart which passes through your abdomen. In some people, as they get older, the wall of the aorta weakens leading to swelling and bulging. It can be serious if it is not spotted early because it could get bigger and eventually burst (rupture).
Screening for AAA is routinely offered by the NHS to all men aged 65 and over.
- Around 1 in 92 men who are screened will have an AAA
- Around 5,000 men aged 65 and over in England and Wales die from a ruptured AAA every year
- Deaths from ruptured AAA account for 1.7% of all deaths in men aged 65 and over
Who is at risk?
Some people have a higher risk of getting an AAA including:
- men are six times more likely to develop an aneurysm than a woman. The chance of having an aneurysm increases with age. Two out of every three deaths from ruptured AAA in England and Wales occur in men who are over 65.
- people who smoke are15 times more likely to get an AAA
- high blood pressure can double your risk of getting an AAA
- you are four times more likely to get an AAA if a close family member has one or has had one
What are the symptoms of having an AAA?
In most cases, an AAA has no noticeable symptoms. AAAs often grow slowly without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. However, if it becomes large, some people may develop pain or a pulsating feeling (like a heartbeat) in their tummy or persistent back pain.
If an aneurysm ruptures (bursts) it can cause:
- sudden severe pain in the tummy or lower back
- sweaty pale and clammy skin
- a fast heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- fainting or passing out
AAA screening programme
AAA screening is a free NHS national screening programme that invites men aged 65 plus to attend an appointment to check if they have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The screening is by invitation and uses an ultrasound scan. If you are a man aged over 65 you are more likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm than any other demographic so this is why you will be invited for screening.
Men over 65 who have not previously been diagnosed with an aneurysm can request a scan by contacting their local screening service directly on 0191 445 8747.
The North East of England and North Cumbria AAA Screening Service is hosted by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital but you will be invited to a local clinic for an ultrasound scan. This service covers; North Yorkshire to Berwick and North Cumbria localities.
The Lancashire and South Cumbria AAA Screening Service is also hosted by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but you will be invited to a local clinic for an ultra sound scan. This service covers; West Lancashire to South Cumbria localities.
AAA screening service in Gateshead
The abdominal aortic aneurysm screening program is a free NHS screening test which aims to reduce the number of deaths from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm in men. Men are chosen as they
are six times more likely to have an aneurysm than women. You will be automatically invited for screening sometime in your 65th year. Men over 65 can self-refer by contacting the screening centre on 0191 445 2554.
The abdominal aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body sometimes the wall of the aorta can become weak and stretch to form a ballooning in the abdomen this is an
aortic aneurysm if this happens there is a risk that the aorta may rupture causing internal bleeding if it became too large. There are no signs and symptoms with an AAA therefore if you have one you still might not have any pain or notice any difference. Men are at much higher risk particularly if they smoke if they have increased blood pressure if they have increased cholesterol and also if there is a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm. The easiest way to find out if you have an aneurysm is to have an ultrasound scan.
Please don’t ignore your invitation it could save your life.
The AAA screening team
The AAA screening team is made up of a multi-disciplinary team including:
- Clinical director: a vascular consultant who is responsible for the screening programme.
- Consultant radiologist: a consultant specialising in the use of medical imaging for vascular conditions.
- Screening manager: the senior manager responsible for the leadership and monitoring of service quality for the AAA, Bowel and Breast screening programmes.
- Programme Lead/CST: the senior ultrasound practitioner who is responsible for the daily management of the team, operation of the screening service, oversees quality and provides staff training.
- Nurse practitioners: they support men who have been given a diagnosis of AAA, through nurse assessment clinics and provide healthcare advice.
- Screening technician: this is the person who performs the ultrasound scan.
- Administration co-ordinator: assists the programme lead with the operation of the screening service by ensuring invitations to eligible men are sent within national guidelines.
- Administration staff: the admin team book/change appointments and deal with enquiries.
- Health improvement practitioners: they are responsible for promoting the service, improving uptake and helping to reduce inequalities.