What is abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening?

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening is a crucial health check that can save lives by detecting a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main artery running from your heart through your abdomen. This condition, known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm, can be life-threatening if it’s not caught early, as it can grow and eventually burst, causing severe internal bleeding.

Who should get screened?

In England, men turning 65 are invited for AAA screening because they are at the highest risk. If you’re a man over 65 and haven't been screened, you can still request a test. However, routine screening isn’t offered to women, men under 65, or those who have already had an AAA treated, as the risk in these groups is much lower.

Why screening matters

AAAs often don’t cause noticeable symptoms until they’re severe, making early detection through screening vital. If an AAA is found early, you can monitor it with regular scans or opt for surgery to prevent it from bursting. Without screening, about 8 out of 10 people with a ruptured AAA don’t make it to the hospital in time or survive emergency surgery.

How to get screened

If you’re a man registered with a GP, you’ll receive an invitation for screening when you’re 64 or soon after turning 65. If you’re over 65 and haven’t been screened, contact your local AAA screening service to arrange a test.

The screening process

AAA screening is quick, painless, and straightforward, similar to an ultrasound scan used during pregnancy. During the appointment, you’ll lie down while a technician moves a small scanner over your abdomen. The results are immediate, and the whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. If the aorta isn’t clearly visible, you might need a follow-up scan.

Understanding your results

After your scan, you’ll get one of four results:

  • No aneurysm found: If your aorta is less than 3cm wide, you’re in the clear and won’t need further checks.
  • Small AAA: An aorta measuring 3cm to 4.4cm means a small AAA, affecting just over 1% of men screened. You’ll need annual scans to monitor its size and advice on lifestyle changes to prevent it from growing.
  • Medium AAA: If your aorta is 4.5cm to 5.4cm, you have a medium AAA, seen in about 0.5% of men. You’ll need scans every three months and similar lifestyle advice.
  • Large AAA: An aorta 5.5cm or more indicates a large AAA, found in about 0.1% of men screened. Due to the high risk of rupture, you’ll be referred to a specialist within two weeks to discuss treatment options, typically surgery.

Making the decision

Choosing to get screened is a personal decision. While the screening itself carries no risk, being diagnosed with an AAA can cause anxiety, and surgery, though potentially life-saving, carries its own risks. However, the benefits of early detection and treatment far outweigh the risks for those at high risk of AAA.

Take action for your health

If you’re eligible for AAA screening, taking that step could be a lifesaver. For more information or to arrange a screening, contact your local AAA screening service.

Stay informed, stay healthy

By understanding the importance of AAA screening and taking proactive steps, you can protect your health and potentially save your life. Don’t wait—get informed and get screened.


Read also: AI replacing contrast dye injections in CT heart scans

The part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs. Full medical glossary
Relating to the abdomen, which is the region of the body between the chest and the pelvis. Full medical glossary
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