How dangerous is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)?

Dr. Mark J. Russo, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Aortic aneurysms are the 13th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 15,000-20,000 deaths annually.

Aortic disease is often insidious. Most people with aortic aneurysms experience no symptoms, unless they are extremely large or an aortic dissection occurs. For most people, their aortic condition is discovered incidentally while being tested for other reasons.

A number of famous people have died of aortic catastrophes, including:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Olympic volleyball champion Flo Hyman
  • Broadway composer of “Rent” Jonathan Larson
  • Diplomat Richard Holbrook
  • Musician Gordon Lightfoot
  • Lucille Ball
  • George C. Scott
  • Actor John Ritter

Aortic aneurysms, which result from weakening of the aortic wall, can lead to rupture or dissection (a tear in the aorta). The risk of these events increases as the size of the aneurysm increases. Rupture of the aorta most frequently results in immediate death. Aortic dissection is the most common catastrophe of the aorta. As many as 40 percent of people with aortic dissections die instantly, and the risk of the death increases 1 to 3 percent every hour.

A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency because it results in an extremely fast loss of blood and is fatal in 80% of patients. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you have stabbing pain in your abdomen or back that does not go away.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) poses a threat because it usually doesn’t show symptoms until a medical emergency occurs. Because of this silent threat, AAA has been called a "U-Boat," describing that it is silent, deep, deadly, and detectable by sound waves.

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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.