What Are the Causes of an Enlarged Abdominal Aorta?

The exact cause of an enlarged abdominal aorta, also known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm, is unknown but the condition is linked to infection, tobacco use and hardening of the arteries, according to Mayo Clinic. The enlarged area often grows slowly and may be difficult to detect.

The aorta is the main blood vessel in the body, and a rupture from an aneurysm is life-threatening, says Mayo Clinic. Aneurysms can occur anywhere in the aorta, but most occur in the abdominal area. Symptoms include constant stomach pain, a pulsating sensation near the navel and back pain. Many aneurysms never rupture and sometimes remain small. Others grow large quickly.

Men and smokers over 60 are at elevated risk for enlarged abdominal aorta, explains Mayo Clinic. A family history of the condition is also a risk factor. Most physicians recommend that men between 65 and 75 who have smoked cigarettes at any point have an ultrasound to screen for aneurysms.

Treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm depends on its size and how fast it is growing, according to Mayo Clinic. If the aneurysm is small and the patient has no symptoms the doctor may recommend that it simply be watched. Medium-sized aneurysms may be watched or surgically removed. Large aneurysms, especially if they are leaking or painful, usually require surgery.