Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: Ticking Time Balloons

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: Ticking Time Balloons
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A million Americans have a silent aneurysm in their abdominal aorta (AAA) that may become life-threatening over time.

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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 our 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 that pressure. And when balloons get too big, they can pop, and then you die.

The ballooning is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. 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 aneurysm in their abdomen. But more than half who get abdominal aortic aneurysms 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

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 our 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 that pressure. And when balloons get too big, they can pop, and then you die.

The ballooning is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. 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 aneurysm in their abdomen. But more than half who get abdominal aortic aneurysms 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to J. Heuser, NIH, Edwin P. Ewing, Jr., Grahams Child, BionerdMichel de Villeneuve via Wikimedia Commons, and Thompson & Bell.

Doctor's Note

Be sure to check out my other videos on cardiovascular disease.  

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Aortic aneurysm prevention: Jeff Green and his aortaThe Most Anti-Inflammatory MushroomPreventing and Treating Kidney Failure With Diet; and Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

17 responses to “Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms: Ticking Time Balloons

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  1. 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.




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  2. 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




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  3. 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.




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  4. 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¡




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  5. hello Doctor my aorta has been 4.4 for a while now or may even be larger now as the scan was inconclusive for size. I also have a bicuspid aortic valve. Is exercise important as well as nutrition?
    I would like to know what I can do naturally as my doctor wants to put me on beta blockers & I am against prescription drugs,well unless they are going to save my life anyway




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  6. I have recently been diagnosed with aortic stenosis. I have been following the plant based diet in your latest book. By using this diet, will I be able to reverse the damage to my aortic valve. I will be evaluated by a cardiologist within the next couple of weeks. I am really trying not to have to undergo open heart surgery to replace the valve as I am only 52 years old. The only symptom I have is tiredness. Thanks for your help.




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    1. Calcification is one of the last stops in a chronic inflammation response to repeated injury. If the calcium deposits are on the younger side in the lesion there can at times be some resorption of the blockage including the calcium deposits. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish have published some impressive reversal of heart disease results as well as have books delineating their dietary recommendations to have similar results on your own.




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  7. What about those who have a thoracic aneursym? Is the cause the same? I assume a healthy plant-based diet is recommended, but what else can they do to prevent it from bursting? Any particular super aneurysm-bursting veggies, berries or spices to be sure to include? I’ve read that aerobic exercise is good, but how much? Finding evidence-based articles is tough if you don’t have a university affiliation. Thanks for all you and the NF team are doing!!




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    1. Hello Indigoyogii. I am a Volunteer Moderator and want to provide you with a helpful response from one of our other moderators. It was from 5 years ago but still current. Another viewer asked this question which as answered by Dr. Dons Moderator (You can scroll above to fine but I’ll include summary here:
      Question: Does the aorta problem fall into that category? (as abdominal aneurysm? )
      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
      Hope that’s helpful and you can follow same preventive strategy as outlined in http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/abdominal-aortic-aneurysm/
      Joan-Nurse Educator




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  8. I realize this is AAA based information. Would also be advisable for a person with Brain aneurysm problems to,also switch? Personally I’d say yes but I’m already eating WFPB. This is for a friend.




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  9. In general, yes. The wall tension of the vessel is important though. In larger vessels, like the aorta, the wall tension will be greater for a given pressure due to the physics of pressure vs wall tension. Also, brain aneurysms can have other causes, but in general, your friend won’t go wrong with a WFPB lifestyle.

    Dr. Ben




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