Weather Forecast


Ask St. Joseph’s Clinic: AAA screening can be life-saving

Dr. Daniel Sheps

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a dilation of the major blood vessel that supplies oxygenated blood from the heart to the organs of the abdomen, pelvis and lower legs. The aorta is a high-pressure system and, over time, our arteries change and become stiffer with deposits of cholesterol, calcium and triglycerides called atherosclerosis.

A dilation of this blood vessel is dangerous because of its propensity to rupture without warning and cause a patient to rapidly bleed out. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly 9 percent of adults over 65 years of age suffer from an abdominal aortic aneurysm and it contributes to 15,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Fortunately, if detected early, aneurysms can be repaired with gore-tex grafts or via an open surgical repair by an experienced surgeon. Nearly 33,000 adults undergo repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in the U.S. every year.

More than 90 percent of patients with AAA have been smokers. Fortunately, choosing to stop smoking will significantly reduce the risk of developing an aneurysm later in life.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a conservative body that advises doctors on appropriate use of screening tests, recommends ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm in any male who has ever smoked cigarettes ages 65-75 years. Currently there is no recommendation for screening female smokers, but your doctor may determine on an individual basis if you are at high risk and may benefit from screening. When an aneurysm is detected, your doctor will monitor the size and the rate of growth and may recommend repair if the size of your aorta below the renal arteries is greater than 5.5 centimeters.

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center offers the ultrasound screening, which is a painless test using sound waves instead of radiation to measure the size of your aorta. If an aneurysm is detected, your doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI to confirm the finding. Check with your health insurance provider to see if this preventative screening is covered by your policy. Call St. Joseph’s now at 701-456-4000 to schedule this ultrasound if you are at risk — it could save your life!

Dr. Sheps serves as a hospitalist at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center in Dickinson. He received his medical education at University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine. He completed his residency at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, N.J.