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October 24, 2007 > Simple Screening Can Detect a Silent Killer

Simple Screening Can Detect a Silent Killer

The largest and most important artery in our body is the aorta. It is the main blood vessel leading away from our heart, carrying oxygen to most of the entire body.
For some people, there is a silent killer that exists as a bulge or blister in the abdominal aorta, between the breast bone and the belly button, without causing any symptoms. If not detected and treated, the bulge may grow and eventually burst, causing sudden, major internal blood loss and death within minutes - before the victim can get to a hospital. This condition is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm or AAA.
"The normal abdominal aorta is about the size of your thumb, but with an aneurysm, it can get as large as a fist," says John Thomas Mehigan, M.D., a board certified vascular surgeon and medical director of Off-Site Community Education at Washington Hospital. "It's like a tire with a blister that can blow at any minute. Until that happens, people experience no symptoms such as ache, pain or even lack of appetite."
This life-threatening condition is not rare. The Society for Vascular Surgery estimates that as many as 1 million Americans are living with an undetected AAA. Each year, nearly 200,000 are diagnosed, but another 15,000 die before their condition can be treated.
The good news is there is a safe, painless, noninvasive ultrasound test that detects and accurately measures the size of an aneurysm to determine if treatment is needed. It will be offered for free at Washington Hospital on Saturday, November 10.
"Early detection of this condition will decrease the incidence of death," reports Ash Jain, M.D., board certified cardiologist and medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program. "These days, there are new techniques for AAA, which are less invasive than previous surgical approaches. Patients can be treated at the hospital and return home in as little as one to three days."
On November 10, Washington Hospital, in conjunction with Fremont Bank and BMC Diagnostics will sponsor an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for people who are at risk of developing this condition. Dr. Mehigan and Dr. Jain will both take part in the free, community event.
The AAA screening is not for everyone. Only people who are at risk of having the condition are eligible to participate. You are at risk if you are over 50 and someone in your family has had an AAA. You are also at risk if you have one or more of the following conditions:
* High blood pressure
* Diabetes
* High cholesterol
* Obesity
If you have the screening and an AAA is detected, the bulge will be measured to determine the need for further treatment.
"If the aneurysm is less than two inches across, we send a written report and image of the study to the patient's primary care physician, who should put him or her on a regular screening program to monitor the size," explains Dr. Mehigan. "If it's larger than two inches, the patient should see a specialist who can determine the necessary treatment, which usually involves surgery or stent graft placement." (A stent graft is a small, rigid, tubular device used to support a weak point in an artery.)
For more information about Washington Hospital's free AAA screening, visit their web site at

Free Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening
Date: Saturday, November 10
Time: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Location: Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium
Rooms A & B
Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, Fremont

Registration required. Call (800) 963-7070.

A public service provided by :
Washington Hospital Healthcare System
Fremont Bank
BMC Diagnostics

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