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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening

The NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening programme has been introduced across England and Implementation began in March 2009. University Hospitals of Leicester was  the first of six pioneer institutions in the country to implement screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Screening in Leicester started in 1996  and was undertaken at the GP surgeries who volunteered to host the service. With the implementation of the National Screening Programme in 2009, this has now been extended to cover all GP surgeries across  Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Aorta illustration

What is Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm?

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm involves a widening, stretching or ballooning of the aorta that is within the abdomen. Aneurysm  will grow larger and eventually rupture if it is not diagnosed or treated.

What is the Aorta?

The heart pumps blood in to a large artery known as the Aorta. It descends from heart to supply blood to all the parts of the body.


The exact causes of abdominal aortic aneurysm are not known. Some people are more likely to develop aneurysm because of their genetic make up(passed on through families). 

Risk factors

  1. Age and being  a man   - 95% of ruptured AAA occurs in men over 65, this condition is six times more common in men than women.

  2. Smoking

  3. High blood pressure

  4. Family history (first degree relatives).



In most cases, an unruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) will cause no symptoms, unless it becomes particularly large.

Symptoms of an unruptured AAA may include:

  • a pulsating feeling in your stomach (abdomen), usually near your belly button, that's usually only noticeable when you touch it
  • persistent back pain
  • persistent abdominal pain

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should see your GP as soon as possible.

Ruptured AAA

If your aortic aneurysm ruptures, you will feel a sudden and severe pain in the middle or side of your abdomen. In men, the pain can also radiate down into the scrotum.

Other symptoms include:

  • dizziness
  • sweaty and clammy skin
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling faint
  • loss of consciousness

Medical emergency

A ruptured aortic aneurysm is a medical emergency, and it’s important to get to hospital as soon as possible.

Around 80% of people with a rupture die before they reach hospital or don’t survive emergency surgery.

This is why the AAA screening programme  was introduced, so large aneurysm can be treated before they burst.



  • Around 6,000 deaths each year in England and Wales from ruptured AAA

  • 2% of all deaths in men aged 65 and over from ruptured AAA

  • 4% of men aged between 65 and 74 in England have an AAA (approximately 80,000 men)

  • 40% of UK deaths results from vascular disease (including death from ruptured AAA).



Simple ultra sound scan is performed to detect aneurysm which is painless.

  • 960 in 1000 men who are screened have normal results

  • 35 in 1000 men are found with smaller to medium aneurysm

  • 5 in 1000 men had large aneurysm( Aortic diameter 5.5cm or above)

Early detection

When aneurysm is detected early, treatment is safe and effective and the aneurysm is curable.

Research Findings

Research has demonstrated that offering men ultrasound screening in their 65th year could reduce the rate of pre-mature death from ruptured AAA by up to 50%.


Self-Referral (Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland)

Men who are older than 65, and who have not previously been screened or treated for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, can self-refer to the screening office on 0116 258 6820



NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme [PDF / 2.27MB] This leaflet provides information about abdominal aortic aneurysm screening (also called AAA screening) for men who have been invited for screening by the national screening programme.


Frequently asked Questions


The United Kingdom Aneurysm Growth Study

The unit regularly participates in the identification of patients to be invited into research projects. Attending for screening will not automatically mean that you are involved in research; rather, you may be offered the opportunity to take part if you wish to. You do not have to take part in research if you do not want to and this will not affect the care you receive from the screening unit.


As an example, we have recently been inviting men screened for AAA if they would like to take part in a national research project, The United Kingdom Aneurysm Growth Study, which is being run from the University of Leicester. In this project both men found to have aneurysm, and men who do not have aneurysm, are being invited to provide some basic information about their medical background and blood samples (all on a strictly confidential basis) so that the research team can investigate what causes aneurysm and what makes the increase in size.

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