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Too Few Screened for Abdominal Aneurysm, Study Says

Potentially life-threatening condition often goes undetected until rupture

FRIDAY, April 24 (HealthDay News) -- Few people who are at risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm are getting preventive screenings, a new study has found.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weak area in the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. As blood passes through, the weakened area can bulge. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms initially have no symptoms but can be deadly if they rupture.

Symptoms of a rupture include sudden and increasing back and abdominal pain.

An estimated 1.5 million to 2 million Americans have this condition, but most are unaware of its potential threat to their lives, the researchers noted.

In the study, the researchers found that only two of 43 people -- or 4.6 percent -- identified as being at risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm had received the proper screening. The findings were to be presented Friday at the American Heart Association's 10th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Washington, D.C.

Guidelines, based on available evidence and cost effectiveness, recommend one-time screening of men 65 to 70 years old who have ever smoked. Screening is done by a physical examination of the abdomen and ultrasound.

The researchers reviewed medical charts of 43 randomly selected men who were older than 65 and had used tobacco products. Other data collected included family history of heart disease. The participants' average age was 67. About 28 percent were white, 47 percent were black and 14 percent were Hispanic.

"Our analysis clearly shows that, despite current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations, at-risk patients are not receiving appropriate screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms," the researchers said.

Reasons for the lack of screening are unclear, they said. Possibilities might include doctors' being unaware of screening benefits, difficulty in ordering ultrasound, or people not following through on doctors' requests that they be screened.

By comparison, 51 percent of the participants had had a colonoscopy for cancer screening, and 65 percent had received a pneumonia vaccine or other preventive screenings.

More information

The Society of Interventional Radiology has more on abdominal aortic aneurysm.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 24, 2009

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