What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?

Mark J. Russo, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
The exact cause is not fully known.  An abdominal aortic aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that result in the breaking down of the well-organized structural components (proteins) of the aortic wall that provide support and stabilize the wall. 

Atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery) is thought to play an important role in aneurysmal disease.  Risk factors for  atherosclerosis include:  age (greater than 60); male (occurrence in males is four to five times greater than that of females); family history (first degree relatives, such as father or brother); genetic factors; hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood); hypertension (high blood pressure); smoking; and diabetes

Other diseases that may cause an abdominal aneurysm include:
  • genetic disorders of connective tissue (abnormalities that can affect such tissues as bones, cartilage, heart, and blood vessels), such as Marfan's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner's syndrome and polycystic kidney disease
  • congenital (present at birth) syndromes, such as bicuspid aortic valve or coarctation of the aorta
  • giant cell arteritis: a disease that causes inflammation of the temporal arteries and other arteries in the head and neck. This causes the arteries to narrow, reducing blood flow in the affected areas. It may cause persistent headaches and vision loss
  • trauma
  • infectious aortitis (infections of the aorta) due to such infections as syphilis, salmonella, or staphylococcus. These infectious conditions are rare.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.