New treatments emerge for fatal, common aneurysms
Posted June 1, 2009 2:10 p.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2009 7:14 p.m. EDT
About 200,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with an abdominal aortic aneurysm – a relatively common condition that can be deadly if untreated.
Christopher Vonbayer had emergency surgery last year for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His aorta had ballooned to an alarming size.
"Had it not been tended to, it could have been disastrous," Vonbayer said.
The aorta is the largest artery in the body. An aneurysm weakens the artery wall.
"The aneurysm essentially is pressurized and with every pulsation (of the heart) can grow and eventually rupture," Dr. Thomas Maldonado said.
In Vonbayer's case, the aneurysm had made his aorta five times the normal size. "He was ready to blow," Maldonado said.
The traditional procedure to fix such a problem as Vonbayer's is to make a large incision to get to the aorta. Instead, he underwent a minimally invasive surgery that puts less stress on the body.
In the surgery, called Endovascular aneurysm repair surgery, or EVAR, doctors make a 1-inch incision in the groin. Then, guided by X-rays, they feed a stent graph up the aorta to reinforce the artery wall.
"Now blood is traveling up the stent graph. It is no longer pressurizing this very tenuous balloon and protecting against rupture," Maldonado said.
With EVAR, a patient is under only local anesthesia and recovers much quicker than the usual week in a hospital.
"I walked out on my own two feet two days later," Vonbayer said.
As the procedure becomes more common, doctors believe patients will soon be able to go home the same day.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms can be diagnosed through a simple ultrasound test. Medicare allows for a free, first-time screening for all new enrollees.