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.

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