Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: A Life-Threatening Condition for Hospice Patients

Published on December 29, 2023

Updated on January 11, 2024

Introduction

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with an (AAA), you may have many questions and concerns. An AAA is a bulge or swelling in the main blood vessel (aorta) that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The aorta runs through the chest and abdomen, and an AAA occurs when the wall of the aorta in the abdomen becomes weak and stretches out. This can happen because of aging, smoking, high blood pressure, or other factors.

An AAA can be dangerous because it can rupture or burst, causing severe bleeding inside the body. A ruptured AAA is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate surgery. However, not all AAAs rupture, and some may never cause any problems. The risk of rupture depends on the size, shape, and location of the AAA, as well as the health and preferences of the patient.

AAAs are a common condition that affects about 3% of adults over 50 years old. They are more common in men than in women, and in people who have a family history of AAAs. AAAs are also a comorbid condition for hospice patients, meaning that they occur along with other serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart failure, or kidney disease. Having an AAA can affect the quality of life and prognosis of hospice patients, as they may experience pain, , or reduced mobility. They may also face difficult decisions about whether to have surgery or not, and what kind of surgery to choose.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with some information and guidance about AAAs and how they can be managed in hospice patients. We will cover the following topics:

  • How to reduce the risk of rupture
  • Signs and symptoms of leaking of the AAA
  • Signs and symptoms that an AAA rupture is imminent
  • Signs and symptoms that the AAA has ruptured
  • How to manage a rupture

We hope that this article will help you understand more about AAAs and how they can affect you or your loved one. We also hope that this article will help you communicate with your health care team and make informed decisions about your care. Remember that you are not alone, and that there are resources and support available for you and your family.

How to Reduce Risk of Rupture

The treatment options for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) depend on the size, location, and growth rate of the aneurysm, as well as the health and preferences of the patient. The main goal of treatment is to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing and causing life-threatening bleeding. The treatment options include:

  • Watchful waiting. This option is suitable for small or slow-growing aneurysms that have a minimal risk of rupture. It involves regular monitoring and surveillance of the aneurysm with imaging tests, such as ultrasound or CT scan, to check for any changes in size or shape. It also involves lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and exercising regularly, to reduce the risk factors for aneurysm growth and rupture. The benefits of watchful waiting are that it avoids the risks and complications of surgery, and that it allows the patient to have more control over their care. The risks of watchful waiting are that the aneurysm may grow or rupture unexpectedly, and that the patient may experience or stress about their condition.
  • Medication. This option is often used in combination with watchful waiting to slow down the growth of the aneurysm and lower the blood pressure. Medications that may be prescribed include beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). The benefits of medication are that it can reduce the risk of aneurysm growth and rupture, and that it can improve the overall health and well-being of the patient. The risks of medication are that it may cause side effects, such as dizziness, fatigue, cough, or muscle pain, and that it may interact with other drugs or conditions.
  • Surgery. This option is recommended for large or fast-growing aneurysms that have a substantial risk of rupture, or for aneurysms that are causing symptoms, such as pain or . Surgery involves repairing or replacing the damaged part of the aorta with a synthetic graft, which is a tube made of metal or plastic. There are two types of surgery for AAA: open repair and endovascular repair. The benefits of surgery are that it can prevent the aneurysm from rupturing and causing fatal bleeding, and that it can relieve the symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient. The risks of surgery are that it may cause complications, such as infection, bleeding, blood clots, kidney damage, or graft failure, and that it may require a long recovery time and hospital stay.

Open repair is the traditional and more invasive type of surgery, which involves making a large incision in the abdomen and cutting out the aneurysm. The aorta is then sewn to the graft, which is placed inside the aorta to restore normal blood flow. Open repair is usually done under general anesthesia, which means that the patient is asleep and does not feel any pain. The surgery may take several hours, and the patient may need to stay in the hospital for a week or more. The recovery time may take several months, and the patient may need to avoid strenuous activities and follow a special diet and medication regimen.

Endovascular repair is a newer and less invasive type of surgery, which involves making small incisions in the groin and inserting a catheter, which is a thin tube, into the femoral artery. The catheter is guided to the aneurysm using X-ray images, and the graft, which is folded inside a stent, which is a metal mesh, is delivered to the aneurysm. The stent is then expanded and attached to the wall of the aorta, creating a new path for the blood flow and excluding the aneurysm. Endovascular repair is usually done under local or regional anesthesia, which means that the patient is awake but does not feel any pain in the lower part of the body. The surgery may take one to three hours, and the patient may need to stay in the hospital for one or two days. The recovery time may take a few weeks, and the patient may need to have regular follow-up imaging tests to check for any problems with the graft or the aneurysm.

The choice of treatment option for AAA is not always clear-cut, and it depends on many factors, such as the size, location, and growth rate of the aneurysm, the age, health, and life expectancy of the patient, and the availability and expertise of the surgical team. Therefore, it is important for the patient to have a thorough discussion with their doctor and their health care team about the benefits and risks of each option, and to express their preferences and values. The patient should also ask questions and seek a second opinion if needed. The patient has the right to make an informed and shared decision about their care, and to have their wishes respected and honored.

Signs and Symptoms of Leaking of the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Sometimes, an AAA may start to leak blood into the wall of the aorta or the surrounding tissues. This is called a leaking AAA, and it can be a warning sign that the aneurysm is about to rupture. A leaking AAA can cause serious complications, such as infection, inflammation, or damage to nearby organs.

The common signs and symptoms of a leaking AAA may include:

  • Abdominal or back pain. Your loved one may feel a sudden, severe, or constant pain in the belly area or the lower back. The pain may feel like a ripping or tearing sensation, or it may spread to the groin, buttocks, or legs.
  • A pulsating sensation near the navel. Your loved one may notice a throbbing or pulsing feeling in the middle of the belly, near the bellybutton. This is caused by the blood flow through the aneurysm. The pulsating sensation may be more noticeable when you lie down or press on the area.
  • Low blood pressure. Your loved one may experience a drop in blood pressure, which can make you feel dizzy, faint, or sweaty. Low blood pressure can also affect the blood supply to other parts of the body, such as the brain, heart, or kidneys.

A leaking AAA is a serious condition that can lead to a ruptured AAA, which can cause fatal bleeding.

Signs and Symptoms that an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Rupture is Imminent

Not all abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) will rupture, but some are more likely to do so than others. Knowing the risk factors and indicators that an AAA is about to burst can help you and your loved one prepare for the possibility.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of AAA rupture are:

  • Size. The larger the aneurysm, the higher the risk of rupture. Aneurysms that are larger than 5.5 centimeters (about 2 inches) in diameter are considered high-risk and may need surgery. However, the size threshold may vary depending on the individual's health and preferences.
  • Growth rate. The faster the aneurysm grows, the higher the risk of rupture. An aneurysm that grows more than 0.5 centimeters (about 0.2 inches) in a year is considered fast-growing and may need surgery.
  • Location. The location of the aneurysm along the aorta can affect the risk of rupture. Aneurysms that are closer to the heart or the kidneys may have a higher risk of rupture than those that are lower in the abdomen.
  • Shape. The shape of the aneurysm can also influence the risk of rupture. Aneurysms that are irregular, asymmetrical, or have a “waist” or a “neck” may have a higher risk of rupture than those that are smooth and round.
  • Presence of inflammation or infection. In rare cases, an aneurysm may become inflamed or infected by bacteria or fungi. This can weaken the wall of the aorta and increase the risk of rupture.

Signs and Symptoms that the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm has Ruptured

One of the most serious complications of an (AAA) is rupture, which means that the aneurysm bursts and causes severe bleeding inside the body. A ruptured AAA is a life-threatening emergency that usually requires immediate surgery to stop the bleeding and repair the aorta. However, for patients who are on hospice and have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, surgery may not be an option or a preference. For these patients, the focus of care is on providing comfort and dignity and honoring their wishes and values.

The signs and symptoms of a ruptured AAA may include:

  • Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen, back, or legs. Your loved one may feel a sharp, stabbing, or tearing pain in the belly area or the lower back. The pain may radiate to the groin, buttocks, or legs. The pain may be different from the pain of a leaking AAA, which is usually constant and dull.
  • Shock. Shock is a condition in which the blood pressure drops very low, and the organs do not get enough blood and oxygen. Shock can cause symptoms such as pale or cold skin, sweating, confusion, weakness, nausea, vomiting, or fainting.
  • Loss of consciousness. Your loved one may lose consciousness or become unresponsive due to the severe blood loss and shock. 
  • Internal bleeding. Internal bleeding is bleeding that occurs inside the body and is not visible from the outside. Internal bleeding can cause symptoms such as low blood pressure, fast heart rate, , or dark or bloody stools or urine.

If you or your loved one has any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your hospice team as soon as possible. They can help you manage the pain and and provide emotional and spiritual support. They can also help you communicate with your family and health care providers about your wishes and goals of care.

To diagnose a ruptured AAA, a hospice registered nurse may perform the following steps:

  • Physical examination. The nurse may check your loved one's pulse, blood pressure, and abdomen for signs of a ruptured AAA. They may also listen to the sound of the blood flow through the aorta with a stethoscope. The nurse may look for signs of shock, such as pale or cold skin, sweating, confusion, or weakness.
  • Provide . The nurse may provide measures, such as pain medication, oxygen, or fluids, to ease your symptoms and improve your loved one's quality of life. The nurse may also provide emotional and spiritual support, and help you cope with the situation.
  • Respect. The nurse will respect your loved one's DNR order and your decision to not pursue curative treatments, such as surgery or medication. The nurse will also respect your wishes to die naturally and comfortably, and to have your family and caregivers by your side.

A ruptured AAA is a profoundly serious condition that can cause death or disability. However, your loved one has the right to choose how they want to live and die, and to have their wishes respected and honored. Your hospice team is here to support you and your family, and to provide you with the best possible care.

How to Manage a Rupture

A rupture of the abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a life-threatening complication that causes severe bleeding inside the body. For most patients, the only way to stop the bleeding and save their lives is to have emergency surgery to repair the aneurysm However, for some patients who are on hospice and have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, surgery may not be an option or a preference. These patients may choose to not pursue any treatment, to not call EMS, and to die comfortably at the place they call home. This is a personal and difficult decision that should be made with the help and support of their health care team, family, and caregivers.

If you or your loved one has a ruptured AAA and decides to not have surgery or any other treatment, here are some things you can do to manage the situation:

  • Contact your hospice team. As soon as you notice any signs or symptoms of a ruptured AAA, such as sudden, severe pain in the abdomen, back, or legs, shock, loss of consciousness, or internal bleeding, you should contact your hospice team. They can help you with , emotional and spiritual support, and end-of-life care. They can also help you communicate with your family and health care providers about your wishes and goals of care.
  • Provide comfort care. Your hospice team may provide comfort care measures, such as pain medication, oxygen, or fluids, to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life. They may also provide emotional and spiritual support, and help you cope with the situation. Comfort care is not intended to cure or prolong your life, but to make you as comfortable and peaceful as possible.
  • Respect your wishes. Your hospice team will respect your DNR order and your decision to not pursue any treatment, to not call EMS, and to die at home. They will not perform any life-sustaining measures, such as CPR, intubation, or blood transfusion, if your heart or breathing stops. They will also respect your wishes to have your family and caregivers by your side, and to have any religious or cultural rituals performed.
  • Prepare for death. A ruptured AAA can cause death within minutes or hours, depending on the severity of the bleeding and the response of your body. Your loved one may experience changes in your breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, skin color, or level of consciousness. Your loved one may also have visions, , or dreams. These are normal and natural signs of dying, and they do not mean that your loved one is suffering or in pain. Your hospice team will help you and your family prepare for death and provide guidance and support throughout the process.

A ruptured AAA is a very serious condition that can cause death or disability. However, you have the right to choose how you want to live and die, and to have your wishes respected and honored. Your hospice team is here to support you and your family, and to provide you with the best possible care.

Conclusion

In this article, we have discussed abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs), which are bulges or swellings in the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. AAAs can be dangerous because they can rupture or burst, causing severe bleeding inside the body. A ruptured AAA is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate surgery. However, not all AAAs rupture, and some may never cause any problems.

We have also discussed why AAAs are a comorbid condition for hospice patients, meaning that they occur along with another serious illness, such as cancer, heart failure, or kidney disease. Having an AAA can affect the quality of life and prognosis of hospice patients, as they may experience pain, anxiety, or reduced mobility. They may also face difficult decisions about whether to have surgery or not, and what kind of surgery to choose.

We have also covered the following topics:

  • How to reduce the risk of rupture
  • Signs and symptoms of leaking of the AAA
  • Signs and symptoms that an AAA rupture is imminent
  • Signs and symptoms that the AAA has ruptured
  • How to manage a rupture

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about AAAs and how they can affect you or your loved one. We also hope that this article has helped you communicate with your healthcare team and make informed decisions about your care.

Here are some practical tips and recommendations for hospice patients with AAAs and their caregivers:

  • Follow your doctor's advice and recommendations about the treatment and monitoring of your AAA. Ask questions and seek a second opinion if needed.
  • Make your wishes and goals of care clear to your health care team, family, and caregivers. Consider having an advance directive or a living will to document your preferences and values.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health. Quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, control your blood pressure and cholesterol, and exercise regularly. Seek help from a counselor, a support group, or a spiritual advisor if you feel stressed, depressed, or anxious.
  • Be alert for any signs or symptoms of a leaking or ruptured AAA, such as sudden, severe pain in the abdomen, back, or legs, shock, loss of consciousness, or internal bleeding. Contact your hospice team as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms.
  • Prepare for the possibility of a rupture and death. Discuss with your family and caregivers about your end-of-life care and your funeral arrangements. Make peace with yourself and your loved ones. Cherish the time you have left and enjoy the things that matter to you.

AAAs are a common and serious condition that affects millions of people around the world. However, there is still a lot of research and awareness needed to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of AAAs. We encourage you to learn more about AAAs and to support the efforts of the medical and scientific community to find better ways to manage and cure this condition. Together, we can make a difference.

Resources

Prognosis of patients turned down for conventional abdominal aortic aneurysm repair

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA): Causes, Symptoms, & Management

Care of Patients with an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) (video)

Antithrombotic therapy in abdominal aortic aneurysm: beneficial or detrimental?

Leaking Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Symptoms and Treatment

Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm: What You Should Know

Management of asymptomatic abdominal aortic aneurysm

Emergency Care Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Nursing Care Plan & Management

Abdominal aortic aneurysm by American Nurse

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) | Presentation, Risk Factors, & Signs/Symptoms (video)

Oh hi there 👋 It's nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive updates on new articles to your inbox.

The emails we will send you only deal with educational articles, not requests to buy a single thing! Read our privacy policy for more information.

Share your love