Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening programme
The aorta is the main artery in your body. It runs from your heart to your stomach. As some people get older, the wall of the aorta in the stomach weakens and expands to form an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Screening can detect an aneurysm by the width of the aorta.
AAA screening and COVID-19
While there was a pause in Northern Ireland’s AAA screening programme during 2020, it is now being delivered across all Health and Social Care Trusts.
To allow for social distancing and to ensure the appropriate infection control requirements, there continues to be a backlog and delay in initial screening invitations.
Information on what this means for the AAA screening programme, including a section of frequently asked questions (FAQs) is available on the Public Health Agency website.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)
Most people with an AAA don’t have any symptoms. To read more about an AAA, go to:
Men at risk of having an AAA
Men are more likely than women to have an AAA. One in 65 men aged 65 in Northern Ireland has an AAA. The risk of developing an AAA depends on your age and genes. If you’re the close relative of an affected person, you’re more likely to get an AAA.
You could increase the risk of having an AAA if you:
You can have an AAA even if you aren’t in any of the above categories.
AAA screening programme
The Northern Ireland AAA Screening Programme invites men in their 65th year to screening. You must be registered with a GP. The programme doesn’t screen women.
If you’re a man, aged over 65 and haven’t yet been screened, you should contact the central screening office here;
AAA screening newsletter
the NI AAA Screening Programme has produced a newsletter containing information on programme delivery across the region and the role of GPs, practice managers and practice nurses in helping to support this.
The newsletter covers many topics including:
- profiles of key staff
- service user engagement activities
- performance data
- information materials available upon request to the programme office
'About the AAA screening programme' video
In the following video, consultant vascular surgeon, Paul Blair, discusses the AAA screening process.
Screening people with a family history of AAAs
If your brother, sister or a parent has or had an AAA, you should ask your GP about getting an ultrasound scan.
Men and women can do this if their close relative had an AAA.
This screening is not part of the screening programme.
Changing a screening appointment
Your screening invitation has your appointment time, date and location in your Trust area.
To change your appointment time, date or location, you need to contact the central screening office.
How screening for an AAA can help
Screening is a scan of your abdomen. By screening, it is possible to detect, monitor and treat most abdominal aortic aneurysms. This reduces the risk of an aneurysm bursting and causing internal bleeding or death.
This type of scan doesn’t look for any other health conditions.
Screening in your area
There are screening clinics in all trust areas. You go to a screening clinic in your area. The clinic could be in a:
- community hospital
- GP surgery
- health and care centre
- health and wellbeing centre
If you need more information about clinics, contact the screening programme office.
What happens during AAA screening
A screening technician uses an ultrasound probe to scan your abdomen for an AAA. The monitor displays an image of your aorta. The screening technician measures the diameter and knows if you have an AAA. They tell you the results immediately.
What screening results can show
You will get one of five possible results from the scan:
- you have a normal aorta
- you have a small AAA
- you have a medium AAA
- you have a large AAA
When your result is normal, you don’t need AAA screening again or any treatment.
This means your aorta is wider than 30mm but less than 45mm. You will need a monitoring scan every year to check if the AAA is growing.
This means your aorta is between 45mm and 54mm wide. You will need a monitoring scan every three months to check if the AAA is growing.
This means your aorta is more than 55mm wide. You will need an assessment for surgery. Your assessment appointment will take place within three weeks of your diagnosis.
Sometimes the aorta cannot be fully visualised and a man will be invited to come back on a different day for another scan.
You will get support and advice about:
- stopping smoking
- diet, weight management and exercise
- lipid modification and statin therapy
- prevention, diagnosis and management of high blood pressure
- prevention, diagnosis and management of diabetes
- drug therapy and anti-platelet agents
When screening detects a small or medium AAA
If you have a small or medium AAA:
- you’ll get a leaflet explaining what happens next
- a specialist nurse will contact you within two working days
- the clinic will tell your GP
The nurse will give you lifestyle advice that could slow the growth of your AAA. They will tell you about:
Treating a large AAA
If detected early, surgery is suitable for most large AAAs. When you’re diagnosed with a large AAA, the vascular surgeon will discuss treatment with you. They will explain two operations:
- replacing the aneurysm with an artificial artery
- repairing the aneurysm with stents through your arteries
Drivers or motorcyclists diagnosed with an AAA
If you hold a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) licence and are diagnosed with an AAA of any size, you must tell the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA). They will suspend your HGV licence if your AAA is 55mm wide or more.
If you’re a motorcyclist or hold any other driving licence and are diagnosed with an AAA 60mm wide or more, you must tell the DVA. They will suspend your driving licence if your AAA reaches 65mm wide or more.
They will reinstate your licence when you’ve had successful treatment for the aneurysm.
Deciding against being screened for an AAA
It’s your choice to have screening for an AAA. If you’re invited to screening but don’t want to go, contact the screening office on 028 9615 1212. They will take you off the list.
Having a second scan for an AAA
If the screening technician cannot see your aorta clearly at your first appointment, you will need a second scan:
- at a different screening clinic
- in a hospital