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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: Ticking Time Balloons

A million Americans have a silent aneurysm in their abdominal aorta (AAA) that may become life-threatening over time.

December 26, 2011 |
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The aorta is the largest artery in our body. It’s like a garden hose. It comes straight off the heart, plunges down through our abdomen and then splits off into each leg.

Our hearts beat about 40 million times a year and each heartbeat sends a wave of pressure down that hose, so it better be strong—flexible, elastic to deal with each pulse of blood pumped through it. But what if your aorta becomes stiffened with atherosclerosis, inflamed with oxidized cholesterol, clogged with fatty deposits?

This is what the inner lining of our aorta should look like, all smooth, pliable, rubbery. But with too much saturated fat in one's diet fatty streaks start to appear, which can lead to inflammation, ulceration, and calcification. The walls of our aorta can weaken, start stretching, bulging out, ballooning under all the pressure. And when balloons get too big, they can pop, and then you die.

The ballooning is called an abdominal aortic aneurism—a million Americans have them, but most don’t even know it. They can be like ticking time bombs, getting bigger and bigger, but you don’t feel it—until it bursts. So, the first and only symptom is usually, a painful death.

So that’s why the current recommendation is that the highest risk group, male smokers over the age of 65, get a sonogram to make sure they aren’t carrying around an aneurism in their abdomen. But more than half who get them don’t fall into that group—they’re women, or nonsmokers, or under 65, so there’s obviously major risk factors that we’re missing.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out other videos on cardiovascular disease.  And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

For more context, check out the associated blog posts: Aortic aneurysm prevention: Jeff Green and his aorta, The Most Anti-Inflammatory Mushroom, Preventing and Treating Kidney Failure With Diet, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out other videos on cardiovascular disease. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

    And check out the associated blog post Aortic aneurysm prevention: Jeff Green and his aorta.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MacSmiley/ MacSmiley

    I can not access this video on YouTube at all, Doc, either on your home page OR by searching for the title. Is “private” your default setting for all your YouTube uploads?

    Sorry about my old Palm. I can only access YouTube videos on YouTube itself.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/chuckx6/ Chuckx6

    Another great video, Michael, thanks for all the information you may available. Question: From my studies of a plants-only diet I’d guess eating this way would reverse or prevent this bulding aorta. Esselsty and other say cholesterol of 150 or less makes us heart attack proof. Does the aorta problem fall into that category? Thank you. ~ Chuck

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

    Good question… the aorta falls into the same category. Arterial disease affects all the arteries in the body. The blood supply to the aortic wall is from small vessels, vaso vasorum, that originate in the aorta. These get blocked and inflamed just like the coronary arteries do.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/chuckx6/ Chuckx6

    Thank you DrDons. I thought that’d be the case but wasn’t positive.

  • moonrican

    Dr. Greger: i have been recently dx with dissection of the celiac trunk artery – a very rare occurance. I am being treated with anticoagulants to prevent clogging or aneurysm formation and was told to avoid foods high in vitamin k during the course of TX, expected 3/6 months. Any recommendations in terms of diet and pevention? Thanks for your attention to this inquiry¡