An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the large artery that
supplies blood to the belly, pelvis and legs. This bulging occurs
without symptoms, unless the artery ruptures. If that happens, severe
internal bleeding creates an extremely urgent medical situation.
People who smoke may be nearly twice as likely to develop an
abdominal aortic aneurysm than the general population, but they can
lower their risk of the potentially life-threatening condition by
quitting, revealed a new research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology
, an American Heart Association journal.
‘People who smoke may be nearly twice as likely to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm than the general population, but they can lower their risk of the potentially life-threatening condition by quitting.’
"Our study quantified the lifetime risk of an abdominal aortic
aneurysm and found that it was far from trivial for smokers," said
Weihong Tang, lead study author and associate
professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of
Minnesota. "And we quantified the benefit of quitting smoking, which
turns out to be substantial."
The study looked at 15,792 people over the age of 45 enrolled in the
national Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. After 22 years of
follow-up, researchers identified 590 cases of a ruptured, surgically
repaired or clinically diagnosed asymptomatic abdominal aortic aneurysm
and 75 cases of asymptomatic aneurysms that were detected by an
The study found the lifetime risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm were:
- One in 17 among all study participants
- One in nine among current smokers;
- One in nine among those in the top third of smoking pack-years
(number of cigarettes smoked over a lifetime), whether a current or
- One in 12 among current female smokers.
Researchers also found those who had quit smoking for three to eight years
(recent quitters) still had an approximately 2.6 to 3.5 fold increased
risk for both clinical and asymptomatic abdominal aortic aneurysm in the
next 15 years compared to never smokers. Their lifetime risk was 6.6% higher than long-term quitters.
For women, authors note the steep increase in risk is particularly
concerning given the United States Preventive Services Task Force
recommends that current or former male smokers undergo an ultrasound
screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm once between the ages of 65
and 75 but makes no such recommendation for women.
"Women who currently smoke have a similar risk as men who quit
smoking; and yet, the task force does not recommend screening these
women," Tang said. "This is important data that physicians and health
policy makers should be aware of."
The study also found that being older, white, or having high levels
of bad cholesterol also increased the risk of abdominal aortic
"The strongest associations, however, remain with smoking," Tang
said. "And the best preventive strategy to reduce abdominal aortic
aneurysms in smokers is to stop smoking."
Authors wrote that study limitations, including some study
participants dropping out of the follow-up and risk calculations were
only performed up to the age of 85, may have led to lower estimates of
life-time risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms than actually exist.