If you're a woman or man under 65 and you think you might have a higher risk of AAA – for example, because a close family member has had one – talk to your GP about the possibility of having a scan to check for an AAA.
If your GP thinks you might benefit from having a scan, this will usually be done when you're five years younger than the age at which your relative was found to have an AAA.
Benefits of AAA screening
An AAA will often cause few or no obvious symptoms, but if it's left to get bigger it could burst and cause life-threatening bleeding inside your tummy.
About 8 in every 10 people who have a burst AAA die before they get to hospital or don't survive emergency surgery to repair it.
Screening can pick up an AAA before it bursts. If an AAA is found, you can then choose to have regular scans to monitor it or surgery to stop it bursting.
The screening test is very quick, painless and reliable. Research suggests it can halve the risk of dying from an AAA.
Deciding to be screened
It's up to you to decide if you want to be screened for AAA. While there are clear benefits of screening, you should also consider the possible risks.
There's no risk from the screening test itself, but there is a risk of:
anxiety from being told you have a life-threatening condition
serious complications of surgery carried out to treat an AAA
Call your local screening service and ask to be removed from its list if you don't want to be screened.
What happens during AAA screening
Screening for AAA involves a quick and painless ultrasound scan of your tummy.
This is similar to the scan pregnant women have to check on their baby.
When you arrive for your appointment, a screening technician will check your details, explain the scan and ask if you have any questions.
For the scan:
you lie down on a table and lift up or unbutton your top (you don't need to undress)
the technician rubs a clear gel on your tummy and moves a small handheld scanner over your skin – pictures from the scanner are shown on a monitor and the technician will measure how wide your aorta is
the gel is wiped away and you pull down or button up your top
the technician tells you the result straight away
The whole test usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
Sometimes the technician might not be able to see your aorta clearly. This isn't anything to worry about. If this happens, you'll be asked to have another scan, usually on a different day.
You'll be told your result at the end of the test. If any problem is found, you'll also be a sent letter confirming the result and letting you know what happens next.
There are four possible screening results.
A normal result means your aorta isn't swollen (it's less than 3cm across) and you don't have an AAA. More than 98% of men screened have a normal result.
If your result is normal, you won't need any further scans or treatment because an AAA grows slowly and the chances of you developing one after 65 are very small.
If you have a small AAA, this means your aorta measures 3cm to 4.4cm across. Just over 1% of men screened have a small AAA.
You won't need any treatment at this stage as the chance of the AAA bursting is small. You'll be invited back for a scan every year to check its size. Treatment will usually only be needed if it becomes a large AAA.
If you have a medium AAA, this means your aorta measures 4.5cm to 5.4cm across. About 0.5% of men screened have a medium AAA.
You won't need any treatment at this stage as the chance of the AAA bursting is small. You'll be invited back for a scan every three months to check its size. Treatment will usually only be needed if it becomes a large AAA.
Ask your GP if you're not sure if you need to inform the DVLA about your AAA or temporarily stop driving.
Having an AAA shouldn't affect your car insurance premium.
Can I fly if I have an AAA?
It's safe to travel by plane if you have an AAA. They're no more likely to burst at a high altitude than on the ground.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has been advised of this and it's not aware of any airlines that refuse people with an AAA.
Can I get travel insurance if I have an AAA?
The ABI is unaware of any travel insurance policies that specifically exclude AAAs as part of their standard wording.
They suggest that anyone with an AAA should declare it during the application process (or when it's diagnosed, if you already have a travel insurance policy).
If you declare an AAA, you may be asked if you:
have had surgery (and if so, when you had it)
are on a waiting list for surgery
have any other related health conditions
You may be charged an additional premium or have the condition excluded from your cover.
When looking for cover, a broker can help. The British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) operates a find a broker service that can help – they can be contacted on 0370 950 1790.
What permission do I need to give to be screened and what personal information will be stored?
At the screening clinic, you'll be asked to give permission:
for the programme to store and keep information about you and your visit on the national AAA screening IT system, and to use this information to help offer safe and effective screening
for the programme to screen you for an AAA (which involves a scan of your tummy) and to tell you the result
if you're found to have an AAA, to share your personal information with a vascular surgeon through the National Vascular Registry
You'll only be screened if you give consent to all three points.
You'll also be asked if the screening programme can use your information to contact you in the future about research that's going on in the programme. You don't have to give permission for this to be screened.
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