(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
- 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.
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