Like a heart attack or stroke, an aneurysm can deal a devastating blow to your health with little warning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this condition is responsible for over 25,000 deaths in the US annually, almost exclusively occurring in adults over the age of 40. However, not everyone is at equal risk of having an aneurysm, especially when it comes to the most common type. Read on to learn the one risk factor that 90 percent of these aneurysms have in common, and why you may still be able to reduce your risk with the help of four specific interventions.
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Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) occur when the aorta—the large blood vessel that delivers blood from the heart throughout to rest of the body—begins to bulge. This can lead to aortic dissection or rupture, which can cause fatal or life-threatening internal bleeding.
According to the CDC, nearly 10,000 Americans died from complications of AAA in 2019. This particular type of aneurysm is the most common kind, experts say from Penn Medicine.
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Many factors can put you at heightened risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm: being over 65, being male, being white, or having a family or personal history of the condition. Unlike these risk factors, which can’t be changed, there is one more that you can control: whether or not you smoke. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 90 percent of AAA patients have a history of tobacco use in common.
The Mayo Clinic explains why this one habit has such a significant impact. “Smoking is the strongest risk factor for aortic aneurysms. Smoking can weaken the walls of the aorta, increasing the risk of aortic aneurysm and aneurysm rupture. The longer and more you smoke or chew tobacco, the greater the chances of developing an aortic aneurysm, “the health authority writes. For this reason, medical experts recommend that all male smokers and former smokers between the ages of 65 and 75 should have an abdominal ultrasound to screen for AAA. Women, too, may benefit from such a screening, but are at a slightly lower overall risk.
We tend to think of aneurysms as an unavoidable threat, against which we are completely defenseless. And while it’s true that some aneurysms can rupture suddenly, experts say many people will experience warning signs of a slow-growing problem that can still be reversed.
Knowing the signs of abdominal aortic aneurysm can create a crucial window of opportunity for treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, a growing AAA might cause back pain, a strong pulse near the belly button, or deep, a persistent pain in the abdomen.
Penn experts add that the symptoms of AAA are sometimes mistaken for a heart attack due to the similarities between the symptoms of each. Overlapping symptoms may include chest and jaw pain, abdominal or back pain, fainting, labored breathing, and weakness on one side of the body.
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Though individuals with a history of tobacco use are at increased risk of AAA, there are still ways that you can reduce your chances of developing a problem. The first step is to quit smoking if you haven’t already, and to avoid secondhand smoke.
Additionally, maintaining a healthy, well balanced diet that limits salt and saturated and trans fats can also have a significant impact on your risk. The Mayo Clinic further recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, and managing any underlying chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol with the help of your doctor.
Speak with your doctor for tips on how to quit smoking, and for more guidance on how to lower your risk of aortic aneurysm.
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