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Aortic Aneurysms: Preventing Aortic Aneurysms

By Maureen Salamon

Updated December 12, 2008

(LifeWire) - Some of the same lifestyle measures that enhance heart health also help prevent aortic aneurysms, which are potentially life-threatening bulges in the wall of the body's largest blood vessel. In addition, a number of widely used medications may have beneficial effects.

The aorta extends from the chest area to the abdomen. The rupture of a balloon-like aortic aneurysm is a medical crisis: About 70% of those to whom it occurs die before reaching a hospital.

An estimated 300,000 Americans have undetected aortic aneurysms, which are often small and may cause no symptoms. Typically, such aneurysms are only discovered during an examination or imaging test for another condition. Annually, about 200,000 people are newly diagnosed with the condition.

Aortic aneurysms are more common in men than in women. Up to 8% of men over age 50 have the problem. Apart from gender, major risk factors include:

  • Atherosclerosis, also popularly known as "hardening of the arteries"
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with the condition

Risk factors, such as family history or gender can't be controlled, but other ways to reduce your risk for an aortic aneurysm are that you can reduce your risk by making healthy lifestyle choices, that is, by maintaining a good diet and healthy weight, getting regular exercise and not smoking.

In addition, scientists have found evidence that common medications -- such as cholesterol-lowering statins, cardiac drugs and even antibiotics -- may significantly lower the risk that an aortic aneurysm will burst. Some scientists are studying whether nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen), could help prevent the development of aortic aneurysms.

Statins, a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol, appear to slightly reduce the growth of aortic aneurysms, helping spare some patients the need for surgery to repair the problem.

Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors -- cardiac medications that affect the ability of the blood vessels to dilate -- have been shown to slow a dangerous dilatation of the aorta, potentially averting the rupture of an aortic aneurysm.

Research also suggests that certain antibiotics, such as doxycycline, may inhibit aneurysm growth. A number of small, preliminary studies have produced encouraging results, but larger studies are still needed.

Sources:

"Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm." nlm.nih.gov. 7 Dec. 2006. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000162.htm>.



"Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm." vascularweb.org. 11 Dec. 2007. Society for Vascular Surgery. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.vascularweb.org/patients/NorthPoint/Abdominal_Aortic.html>.



Baxter, B.Timothy, Michael C. Terrin, and Ronald L. Dalman. "Medical management of small abdominal aortic aneurysms." Circulation. 117(2008):1883-9. 30 Nov. 2008. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/117/14/1883>.



Brooke, Benjamin S., Jennifer P. Habashi, Daniel P. Judge, Nishant Patel, Bart Loeys, and Harry C. Dietz. "Angiotensin II Blockade and Aortic-Root Dilation in Marfan's Syndrome." New England Journal of Medicine 358(2008): 2787-95. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/358/26/2787>.



Claridge, Martin, Simon Hobbs, Clive Quick, Nick Day, Andrew Bradbury, and Teun Wilmink. "Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs are associated with increased aortic stiffness." Vascular Health Risk Management 1:2(2005): 149-53. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1993941>.



Mosorin, Martti, Eija Niemela, Jouni Heikkinen, Jarmo Lahtinen, Valentina Tiozzo, Jari Satta, Tatu Juvonen, and Fausto Biancari. "The use of statins and fate of small abdominal aortic aneurysms." Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg 7(2008): 578-81. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://icvts.ctsnetjournals.org/cgi/content/full/7/4/578?mzxtoshow>.



Rentschler, Mark, and B. Timothy Baxter. "Pharmacological approaches to prevent abdominal aortic aneurysm enlargement and rupture." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1085(2006): 39-46. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118570444/abstract>.



Walling, Anne D. "Can ACE inhibitors prevent aortic aneurysm rupture?" aafp.org. 15 Nov. 2006. American Academy of Family Physicians. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.aafp.org/afp/20061115/tips/3.html>.


LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

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