Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening in Scotland

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening looks for aneurysms (bulges in blood vessels) to monitor or treat them. Treating an AAA early greatly reduces the chance of it causing serious problems.

Who's eligible for AAA screening?

In Scotland, all men and people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB) are invited to attend AAA screening when they turn 65.

If you’re over 65 and have never been for AAA screening, you can arrange an appointment by phoning your local AAA screening centre.

What's an AAA?

The aorta is the main artery that supplies blood to your body. It runs from your heart down through your chest and abdomen (tummy). As you get older, the wall of the aorta in your abdomen can become weak and balloon out. This is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm or AAA.

Who's at risk of an AAA?

Men and AMAB people are 6 times more likely to have this type of aneurysm than women and those assigned female at birth (AFAB).

Aneurysms can happen in all men and AMAB people. However, there's a higher chance if:

Your screening invitation

When you get your invitation, read the information carefully and decide whether you want to take up the invitation.

If you're unsure, look for further information to help you decide or talk to a trusted local health professional.

Contacting your local screening centre

There are 8 abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening centres in Scotland.

Contact your local AAA screening centre if you:

  • have not received your screening invitation
  • have a question about the test or your appointment
  • need to change the date or time of your appointment
  • are aged 65 or over and have not received an invitation
  • would like to make a complaint, or give feedback
  • need an interpreter
Why should you be screened?

The AAA screening test can help to identify if you have an aneurysm and if this needs to be monitored or treated. If you've an aneurysm, you may feel completely healthy with no symptoms or pain.

To find out if you have an AAA, a health professional will take an ultrasound scan (sonogram) of your abdomen.

These scans are:

  • completely safe, reliable and painless
  • quick, usually lasting for around 10 minutes

There are no risks associated with this ultrasound screening test.

If left untreated and undetected, aneurysms can cause serious problems and be life-threatening. As the wall of the aorta stretches, it becomes weaker and could rupture (burst) causing internal bleeding. Where internal bleeding occurs, 8 out of 10 cases result in death.

Choosing not to be screened

It’s your choice whether to be screened or not. However, your local screening centre will only send one invitation.

If you choose not to be screened but change your mind later, you can arrange an appointment by phoning your local AAA screening centre.

Accessibility

When you receive your appointment, please contact the staff at the screening centre if:

  • you've access issues that prevent you attending your appointment or may cause difficulty during your appointment
  • you require an interpreter during your appointment
  • you require any other help or want to have someone with you during the scan

Your screening test

Before the test

At the screening centre, a health professional will check your details and explain the test. You'll have a chance to ask questions.

There's no need to fast before your scan. But if you can, avoid having a heavy meal to help the person doing your test get a clearer image.

During the test

The person doing your test will:

  • ask you to lie down and lift up, or unbutton, your shirt
  • apply a cool jelly to your abdomen
  • move a small scanner over your skin
  • take measurements of your aorta from an image on a screen

Your appointment will usually take no more than 30 minutes with the test itself taking around 10 minutes.

More about ultrasound scans

Second test

Sometimes health professionals won't be able to see the aorta clearly. This is nothing to worry about. However, you’ll need to be tested again to get an accurate result.

The screening centre will arrange a new appointment for you. This could be on a different day and at another clinic.

Test results

After the scan the person who carried out the ultrasound will tell you your result straight away. You'll have one of four results:

  • normal result
  • small aneurysm
  • medium aneurysm
  • large aneurysm

You'll also be sent a letter with your results.

If you have an aneurysm, your GP will be sent a copy of the result letter so they can discuss your results with you.

Normal result

Most men and AMAB people have a normal result, which means:

  • no aneurysm was found
  • you won't need any further investigations or treatment
  • you won't need to be screened again, as it’s very unlikely you'll develop an aneurysm that needs treatment
Small or medium aneurysm

If your aorta's a little bigger than normal, you'll test positive for a small or medium aneurysm.

Most aneurysms grow very slowly, and many men and AMAB people with a small or medium aneurysm never need treatment. However, it's important to check the size of the aneurysm regularly to monitor any growth as you may need treatment if it grows into a large aneurysm.

To monitor growth, your local screening centre will invite you for an ultrasound scan every:

  • 12 months for a small aneurysm
  • 3 months for a medium aneurysm

A health professional will also tell you what you can do to stop your aneurysm getting larger.

Large aneurysm

A large aneurysm means your aorta is much bigger than normal. Only a very small number of men and AMAB people will have a large aneurysm.

Large aneurysms are uncommon but can be very serious. As the wall of the aorta stretches, it becomes weaker, and it could rupture (burst). If the aneurysm ruptures, this leads to life-threatening internal bleeding and, in 8 out of 10 cases, death.

Your local screening centre will refer you to a specialist consultant, who'll:

  • carry out more tests
  • provide more detailed information
  • discuss possible treatment with you, including surgery

You'll be seen within 2 weeks by a specialist.

More about treating a large aneurysm

Further information and other languages and formats

Information in other languages and formats. 

For alternative formats, please contact phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

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Contact us in BSL

Our health information team can help you with any questions about AAA screening. You can speak to them using BSL through the contactSCOTLAND-BSL service.

Find out how to use the contactSCOTLAND-BSL service

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