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Free screening for men

October 2019

man sitting opposite doctor
The NHS is offering free checks for men

Men are notorious for not taking enough interest in their own health, so it is good that all men aged 65 or over are being invited to take advantage of a free NHS AAA screening programme.

AAA stands for abdominal aortic aneurysm, and men have been especially selected for this programme because the condition is most common in men aged 65 plus.

AAA refers to a bulge or swelling in the aorta. The aorta is a vitally important blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and the stomach.  As we get older, the wall of the aorta in the abdomen can become weaker and then it can start to expand or push out. If it is stretched too far, the aorta can burst, causing internal bleeding. Around 85 out of 100 die when an aneurysm bursts.

Risk factors in the development of an aneurysm include smoking and high blood pressure.  But a distended aorta usually gives no symptoms, hence the value of this screening programme.

The screening check is very simple indeed and usually lasts for less than 10 minutes. You simply lie down and lift or unbutton your top to expose an area of your abdomen.  You don’t need to undress. A cool gel will then be put on and a scanning sensor will be slid around your skin.  This scan shows a picture of the aorta on a screen which will be looked at and measured.

They will tell you the results straight away and these will also be sent to your doctor.

Usually the results fall into three main categories, small, medium and large.

 If the aorta is less than 3cm wide, it is not enlarged and not given a category. This is the best result.

However, sometimes small aneurysms are found, between 3 cm and 4.4cm across. The chances of these bursting are minimal, but you will be invited back for another scan the following year.

A medium AAA measures between 4.5cm and 5.4 cm. Again this has little chance of bursting, but you will be invited for another scan in 3 months time just to keep an eye on it. For both small and medium AAAs, you may also be given advice on smoking, diet, exercise or any other areas that may help to prevent the AAA getting any larger.

If a large AAA is spotted, with an aorta measuring 5.5cm or more across, then treatment is advised to stop it getting any bigger and to help prevent any danger of it bursting. You will be referred to a specialist surgeon to talk about options which will probably include surgery.  This can include endovascular surgery, when a graft is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin and then carefully passed up into the aorta; and open surgery when a graft is placed in the aorta through a cut in the stomach.  Both systems have their own advantages and disadvantages and your surgeon will go through it all carefully with you.

It is worth recognising the symptoms of a burst AAA. These include sudden, severe pain the stomach or lower back, dizziness, sweaty, pale and clammy skin, a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath, and fainting and passing out.    A burst AAA is extremely serious and an ambulance needs to be called immediately.

The AAA programme is not entirely sexist! If you are a woman and have concerns, you can also be checked. But the current free programme inviting people to have a scan is directed at men.

Find out more about it through your local surgery and you can also find your nearest screening location at:

https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Abdominal-aortic-aneurysm-screening/LocationSearch/1910

 

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