Abdominal Aortic Ultrasound

An abdominal aortic ultrasound is a noninvasive exam that uses high-frequency sound waves to visually evaluate the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body that carries blood away from the heart. This test determines if there are blockages, narrowing or aneurysm (an enlargement or a “bulge”) in the aorta. Ultrasound is used to obtain images of the aorta and the blood flow within.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which involves a weakened, bulging area in the aorta that develops from high blood pressure or infection, can be effectively screened using ultrasound technology. AAA is diagnosed when the aorta expands to over three centimeters in diameter. As the size of the aneurysm increases, so does the risk of rupture. For patients enrolled in Medicare, an AAA screening must be performed within the first 12 months of enrollment.

The Society for Vascular Surgery and the Society for Vascular Medicine and Biology recommends the following courses of action after screening:

  • No further testing if aortic diameter is less than 3.0 cm;
  • Yearly ultrasonographic screening if aortic diameter is between 3.0 to 4.0 cm;
  • Ultrasonography every 6 months if aortic diameter is between 4.0 to 4.5 cm;
  • Referral to a vascular specialist if aortic diameter is greater than 4.5 cm.

Ultrasound imaging of the aorta is useful for measuring its size to screen for AAA. This test is recommended for men over the age of 60, as well as smokers and patietns with a family history of AAA. If a diagnosis of AAA is confirmed, ultrasound can be used to monitor the condition on a regular basis and determine appropriate treatment methods.


  • Palpable pulsatile abdominal mass
  • Unexplained lower back pain or abdominal pain
  • Known extremity aneurysmal disease
  • Follow-up of a previously demonstrated abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Follow-up of patients with history of placement of aortic or iliac endoluminal graft

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