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Pre-Register for a Free Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Offered on November 7

Abdominal aortic aneurysm.

The term is certainly a mouthful. It also describes a potentially deadly health condition that generally doesn’t cause any symptoms. But how do you know if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm – an AAA – if you don’t have any symptoms? A simple, painless ultrasound screening that takes only about 15 minutes could answer that question and possibly save your life or the life of a loved one.

For more than a decade, Washington Hospital -- with the generous support of Fremont Bank – has provided annual free screenings to encourage early diagnosis and treatment of AAA. This year’s screening event, which is co-sponsored by the imaging services company Mint Medical, is scheduled for Saturday, November 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The screenings will be conducted in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm?

An AAA is a “silent killer” that affects the aorta, the largest and most important artery in the body. The aorta runs from the heart through the center of the chest and abdomen before dividing into two branches called the iliac arteries, which carry blood into each leg. As blood flows through the abdominal aorta, it can push and expand the artery wall.

“If the abdominal aorta weakens, the artery will begin to expand over time,” explains board-certified cardiologist Dr. Ash Jain. “An AAA is created when a bulge develops in the abdominal aorta, between the breast bone and the belly button. If the weakening and expansion of the abdominal aorta goes beyond a certain point, there’s a high risk of rupturing the aorta. Because the aorta is the main source of blood supply to the body, a ruptured AAA can cause life-threatening bleeding, and it frequently is impossible to save the patient once a rupture has occurred.”

Dr. Jain and vascular surgeon Dr. John Thomas Mehigan serve as co-medical directors of Washington Hospital’s Vascular Services Program. Dr. Jain also serves as medical director of the Washington Hospital Stroke Program, and Dr. Mehigan is the chief of Vascular Surgery at Washington Hospital. Both physicians will conduct AAA screenings at the event on November 7. The screenings use ultrasound technology that detects and accurately measures the size of an aneurysm to determine if treatment is needed. After the ultrasound testing is performed, patients have the opportunity to speak with one of the doctors, who will explain the screening results.

“An AAA is difficult to feel by routine examination because the aorta is in a hard-to-reach position,” says Dr. Mehigan. “Consequently, a majority of these potentially fatal aneurysms are found by accident. Obviously, the best time to find an AAA is before it ruptures, rather than by accident, and that’s why we conduct these screenings every year. If we can find these aneurysms when they are small, we can work to control the patients’ risk factors for having the aneurysms increase in size or rupture.”

Risk Factors for AAA

The Society for Vascular Surgery estimates that as many as 1 million Americans are living with an undiagnosed AAA. Each year, nearly 200,000 AAAs are diagnosed, and 15,000 people die from one. Although the exact cause of AAAs is unknown, a number of risk factors may play a role, including:

  • Family history of AAA
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking and other forms of tobacco use
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Heart disease

The Society for Vascular surgery notes that AAAs occur most often in people age 60 and older. Men develop AAAs more often than women do, but women who have an AAA have a higher risk of rupture than men.

“If an AAA is diagnosed before it is larger than 5 cm, it often can be treated effectively with lifestyle changes and medications, along with monitoring the aneurysm with an ultrasound test every year,” Dr. Jain says. “For aneurysms larger than 5 cm, we would follow up with a CT scan to obtain more detailed images and then aggressively treat the AAA by implanting stents to reinforce the weakened wall of the aorta. Technology has improved tremendously over the past several years. Even if a stent is required, the patient usually can go home the day after the procedure.”

Dr. Mehigan encourages anyone with risk factors for an AAA to register for a free screening on November 7. “The only downside to the screening is that screening participants must fast overnight and not have breakfast until after they are screened,” he notes. “Then, after the screening, you get a little snack and you’re out of there.”

If you have a family history of AAA or any of the risk factors for AAA mentioned above – or if you have a family member who does – call 800.963.7070 to schedule a free abdominal aortic aneurysm screening on November 7.

To ensure adequate staffing for this free screening event, pre-registration is required; walk-in patients cannot be accepted. If you are unable to be screened on November 7 and need help finding a physician who can discuss your risks for AAA, visit and click on “Find Your Physician.” Medicare now pays for a one-time screening for patients over the age of 65.