|NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screening programme|
A rupture of a large abdominal aortic aneurysm is usually fatal.
That is why I attended my appointment at a local health centre as part of the NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screening programme.
The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. It runs from the heart down through the chest and abdomen. In some people, as they get older, the wall of the aorta in the abdomen can become weak. It can then start to expand and form what is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm, also know as an AAA or 'triple A'.
The possibility of having an aneurysm of this type increases with age and men are six times more likely to have one than women. Age and gender are not the only factors which can affect the chances of having an AAA. The risks are increased for those who smoke, who have high blood pressure, and who have blood relatives where a 'triple A' has been diagnosed. Estimates suggest that 1 in 25 (4%) of men aged between 65 and 74 have an AAA. It is for these reasons that men are invited to attend a screening in the year that they reach 65
Someone with an abdominal aortic aneurysm will not generally notice any symptoms and therefore will be unaware that one has developed within them. A small aneurysm is not dangerous. However, aneurysms can grow as the wall of the aorta stretches and becomes weaker. It is important to monitor their size. Large aneurysms are rare but can be very serious. A weakness in the wall of the aorta can give way. This is known as aneurysm rupture and is usually fatal. The condition is particularly serious because there isn't any warning. However, treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysms detected through screening is highly effective.
The easiest way to find out if if an AAA is present is to have an ultrasound scan of the abdomen. The screening test is simple, pain-free and over and done in less than 10 minutes.
Having confirmed my arrival at the clinic with the receptionist there was a short wait for my appointment time. On entering the consulting room the screening technician checked my details, explained the scan and gave me the opportunity to ask any questions. I was then asked to lie down on the examination bed and to lift up or unbutton my shirt. I did not need to undress. The technician put cold jelly on my abdomen and then moved a small scanner over my skin. The scan picture appeared on the console screen and the technician took the measurements needed to assess the width of my aorta.
There are four width criteria: normal (no aneurysm) – less than 3cm wide; small aneurysm – between 3cm and 4.4cm wide; medium aneurysm – between 4.5cm and 5.4cm wide; large aneurysm – 5.5cm wide or larger. Each band has its own recommended follow-up procedure.
May I suggest dear reader that if you are male and in your 65th year, and receive an invitation to have a screening then take the opportunity to have it done. If you're over 65 and haven't had a screening then you can ask your GP to arrange an appointment.