Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Virginia Mason has an excellent team of vascular surgeons who perform a high volume of endovascular and open abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) repair operations. The skill of our surgeons is exhibited by our extremely low mortality rate associated with these complex operations.

An aortic aneurysm is a weak area in the aorta, which is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. As blood flows through the aorta, the weak area bulges like a balloon and can burst and bleed uncontrollably (hemorrhage). Small aneurysms – less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) – rarely rupture and may pose little risk to the patient. In most cases, physicians recommend treating aneurysms that are 5.5 centimeters or greater in diameter.

An endoluminal stent-graft has been developed to repair an aneurysm. An incision is made in the patient’s groin, and a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel that leads to the aorta. A stent-graft (a Dacron tube inside a metal cylinder) is inserted through the catheter.

Watching the progress of the catheter on an X-ray monitor, the surgeon threads the stent-graft to the weak part of the aorta where the aneurysm is located. With this technique, there is no need to make a large incision in the abdomen or to remove the damaged section of the blood vessel.

Once the stent-graft is in place, the metal cylinder is expanded like a spring to hold tightly against the wall of the blood vessel. The blood then flows through the stent-graft, avoiding the aneurysm, which typically shrinks over time.