A screening programme introduced in 2009 has been hailed as a success in preventing up to 2,000 deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms (“AAA”).
An aneurysm is swelling of a blood vessel which fills with blood, creating a balloon like structure. They do not generally produce any symptoms and often patients learn of their aneurysm too late, when it ruptures causing blood loss and damage to surrounding organs. It is for this reason that aneurysms are considered to be very dangerous, and immediate medical intervention is required to save a patient who has ruptured.
AAAs are considered to be particularly dangerous due to the vast amounts of blood that pass through the aorta. Many are symptomless until they rupture, but early signs of a larger AAA can be pain or pulsating in the abdomen or persistent back pain. A ruptured aneurysm will normally lead to sudden and severe abdominal pain and anyone who suspects a ruptured AAA should call 999 immediately.
In 2009, the NHS began to offer ultrasounds to men aged 65 to identify patients with AAAs. This has led to 2,000 men in the UK undergoing surgery to repair the aneurysm before it ruptures, whilst others with smaller and less dangerous aneurysms are now under regular review.
Director of Screening at Public Health England, Dr Anne Mackie, has said
It is great news that one million 65-year-old men have now been screened for AAA … the programme has been a major public health success story and has proved to be crucial in detecting and treating large aneurysms, leading to the prevention of premature deaths in men aged 65 years and over”.
Women are considered to be at lesser risk of having AAAs and are therefore not currently included in the screening programme. This is under review.
Aneurysms are also a frequent feature in Clinical Negligence claims, particularly a brain aneurysm known as a subarachnoid haemorrhage. The symptoms displayed when a brain aneurysm ruptures can be easily mistaken for other illnesses, such as a virus. These include a sudden and painful headache, stiff neck, sickness and vomiting and pain when looking at light (known as photosensitivity).
Busy or inexperienced GPs or A&E doctors can accidentally discharge a patient who in fact requires emergency surgery. Failure to refer for further investigation or treatment may frequently lead to death or significant cognitive impairment.
If you or anyone you know has concerns about treatment received for an aneurysm, contact our specialist clinical negligence team on 0800 316 8892.