Time to Intervene: Read Thomas' Story
Typically, our bodies have a way of letting us know when something is wrong. Symptoms like pain, body temperature, discoloration and swelling are all mechanisms for our body to tell us there is a problem.
Then there are those conditions that stay under the radar, offering no symptoms to indicate a problem. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is one of them — and that is what makes it dangerous.
An estimated one million undiagnosed Americans, are living with AAA and don’t even know it. This life-threatening but treatable condition affects the largest artery of the body, the aorta. Pumping blood from the heart to the rest of the body, the aorta has a very important job.
The walls of the aorta are strong and flexible. Over time, blood flow can put pressure on the walls and because of their elasticity, they may give a bit to the pressure. When the artery walls become weak, that pressure can force the walls to expand, resulting in an aneurysm.
Aortic aneurysm is a very serious condition. A ruptured aneurysm has a mortality rate of nearly 90 percent.
‘I Never Felt a Thing’
For Thomas Burns, 91, of Lawrenceville, his abdominal aortic aneurysm came as a surprise while visiting his oncologist. The doctor told Thomas an aneurysm had developed in his abdomen and recommended Thomas see vascular surgeon Honesto ‘Sto’ Poblete, MD, board certified vascular surgeon.
“I’d never felt a thing. It was lucky the oncologist did these tests or I would have never known,” says Thomas.
When Thomas visited Dr. Poblete, he learned about his unwelcome diagnosis. “Aneurysm occurs most commonly in the abdominal region and unless it’s become quite large or ruptures, an aneurysm is not typically symptomatic,” Dr. Poblete explains.
Road to Repair
For two years, Thomas regularly visited Dr. Poblete for testing to monitor the size of the aneurysm.
“Monitoring of a diagnosed AAA is related to the extent of the condition,” Dr. Poblete says. “It’s all about the size and probability of rupture.”
For example, an aneurysm that is 7 cm in diameter is more likely to rupture than one that is 4 cm. While there is a risk either way, Dr. Poblete explains, the probability of rupture increases as the aneurysm increases in size.
“Surgery was recommended when the aneurysm got bigger because if it ruptures, you’re done. Unless you can get it taken care of right away,” Thomas recalls.
At 90 years of age, Thomas’ overall health was a major consideration when determining how to proceed with surgery.
“We need to look at the person’s quality of life and how they would respond to surgery,” says Dr. Poblete.
“Mr. Burns was 90 at the time of his surgery, but he also was very active and even would hop off of the exam table. He was definitely in good enough health to have a successful endovascular repair performed.”
The minimally invasive surgery had Thomas back to his routine in no time. And for an active guy like Thomas, that routine includes daily drives and walks.
“I’m relieved we got it taken care of. A week after the surgery it was like nothing happened. Now I just have to see Dr. Poblete for follow-ups once a year,” Thomas says.
Thomas was fortunate that his oncologist suspected a problem with his artery and performed the test that detected his aneurysm. Many others are walking around with no knowledge of this hidden threat.
“Screening for AAA is so important. As people’s understanding of the impact of AAA disease has increased, so has awareness of risk and availability of screenings,” Dr. Poblete explains.
When it comes to AAA, determining your risk can help you know whether you should be screened. It is recommended that individuals who match the following profile have an ultrasound screening for aortic aneurysm:
- Family history of AAA
- Age 65+; or 60 with a family history
“Anyone who has these risk factors should get screened at least once a year for AAA. It’s a fast, simple screening that could save your life,” says Dr. Poblete.
For Thomas, the danger of AAA is all too real. “It’s scary because you don’t know you even have it. Now that we know AAA is in the genes, my sons all get screened for it,” Thomas says.