Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening - getting screened

Brian, John and Barry describe their experiences of the abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening programme and what benefits they gained from attending the screening.

Due to the ongoing situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) routine screening remains paused. Surveillance monitoring scans for medium and small AAAs has recommenced. Further information on paused screening programmes is available on the coronavirus (COVID-19) health services page

Brian’s Story

I’d heard nothing about the AAA Screening Programme before I was invited for a scan. There have been other things I’ve been invited to and haven’t gone, but the thing that appealed here was that there was nothing down to me to do other than to attend. It was up to someone else to carry out the procedure.

Attending screening

Initially I was quite nervous. It was explained to me before the scan and had been made very clear in the information that had come through in the post what would happen. There was also more information given on the day. The staff also prepared me just in case they did find something. They were very helpful and the right procedure was put in place to make sure I was aware of what was happening.

I was asked to lie down and then some scanning was done of my stomach. There were two technicians present who were used to handling the scan. When one said to the other, would you like to have a look at this, I realised there was something there that needed attending to.

After the screening

We had a conversation about what was to happen next after the results of the scan. I was informed that the staff within the programme would contact me to attend hospital to have a CT scan done. I was also given several items of information to take with me.

It was a quiet car journey on the way home from hospital. When we got home there were a couple of telephone calls from the staff and I’ve got to say their words were reassuring and a process started then to build up the confidence to deal with things.

We’ve been aware of friends of ours who unfortunately passed away due to something similar. To some degree a lot of that was moving through my head. But once telephone calls started and we gained some more information, we began to come to terms with things and realise that something could be done about my diagnosis.

No noticeable symptoms

I’d no symptoms whatsoever. I’ve been through things before, like kidney stones, and certainly you will have symptoms, but there was absolutely nothing.

Two days before the scan I was helping my son move home and was lifting furniture. Three days later you were told it wouldn’t be a good idea to lift heavy items. I was blissfully unaware that there was anything there. It wasn’t until I had the scan that I became quite conscious of what needed to be done.

Having the operation

The operation was on Friday and I was discharged on Sunday and headed home in the afternoon, so quite a quick recovery. It took about six weeks to get back to driving again, with doctor’s permission and also making sure that any stitches had healed and things of that nature. That’s where my GP was extremely helpful and actually very attentive in what I’d been through.

Annual check up

I now have an annual check-up with a CT scan at Dundonald Hospital. I haven’t had any issues or symptoms and I’m anticipating that after the scan that I’ll get the same result this year. Certainly it’s nice to know I’m monitored on a regular basis and it just brings peace of mind.

I would strongly recommend getting the scan. Without it I wouldn’t have had a clue I had an aneurysm at all. Having the scan completed and someone monitoring the situation for you on a regular basis seems a sensible thing to do.

My message to anyone who receives the invitation is go for the scan. It’s not painful, it’s not intrusive, and it could save your life.

John’s story

I knew nothing about an AAA before I got the letter. That was the first I knew about it, but I thought somebody went to the trouble of making an appointment for me, so I went along and got checked out.

Deciding to attend the appointment

I was a bit apprehensive because I knew nothing about it, but I decided to go just to be on the safe side.

I went across to the hospital and was shown to the waiting room. I went in and there was a screening technician there. I removed my shirt, lay down and she applied gel. It was quite painless and then she informed me that I had a small aneurysm.

I was quite shocked, because I had no symptoms and I was feeling pretty well. I thought it was just a formality of getting the screening done.

Within the next couple of days, I was contacted by an aneurysm nurse. She gave me all the information I needed and it reassured me. I have a yearly check-up, just to make sure it hasn’t got any bigger, which does content me.

Recommending the AAA screening

I’m very happy with the screening programme, because now I know I have it. I would recommend anybody to go to the screening. It’s quite painless and it contents me to know I have it. I would recommend to anybody who gets the post, if somebody goes to the bother of making you an appointment, the least you could do is go and get checked out.

My life has changed very little. I work part time, I’ve got my grandkids, I enjoy them and nothing’s really changed, only I know now I have an aneurysm and I know it’s kept in check.

I’d recommend it to my friends. I know a few of them have went for the screening and thankfully they’re okay. The only thing I ever knew about an aneurysm before is that they’re fatal, which they can be, but now with the screening programme, there’s really no excuse. People should go, get checked out for them and their family.

Barry’s Story

Two years ago I was offered the opportunity to have a scan under the NI AAA Screening Programme. I must admit, I wasn’t overly keen. I was reasonably fit, working every day and in no pain or discomfort. To be honest, I read through the literature and decided this wasn’t for me.

After the screening

On the day of the scan, as luck would have it, I found myself nearby the medical centre close to my appointment time and decided to go. The screening was over within ten minutes, nothing more than lying on a bed and rolling your shirt up to expose your stomach. The staff were extremely friendly and explained the whole procedure.

When the scan was finished I was found to be one of the few to have a large aneurysm. What this meant was explained to me in detail and I was told what would happen next. Two hours later I was contacted and an appointment set up to visit the hospital for a pre-op assessment, which I attended.

Everything was explained to me in great detail and numerous tests made. I met my surgeon, who answered any questions I had, and I was given a likely date for my operation. I’d now realised how serious a large AAA is and how, if left unattended, it could affect my quality of life.

Having surgery

As I said earlier, my lifestyle was reasonably active. I enjoy the outdoors, walking, and enjoyed my work, with no intention of retiring. Without undergoing surgery, all this could cease. I decided to go ahead and two days later I was at the hospital and the following day my operation was over. I’m glad to say it was a success.

Six days after this I was on my way home, still a bit uncomfortable, but able to get on with my life. After a month of recuperating, I returned to my daily routine. I have no doubt that attending the scan when I did saved my life. It’s so simple; it shows 98 per cent of men over 65 as not having an aneurysm. If asked to attend an AAA Screening Programme scan, please take advantage of this opportunity, no matter how good you feel.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening programme

Find out more about the Northern Ireland AAA screening programme.

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