New way to treat aortic aneurysms

June 1, 2009 3:16:33 PM PDT
Every year, 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with aortic aneurysms. If untreated, some can rupture, with fatal consequences. Patients now have a new lifesaving option to treat their aneurysms, without major surgery. And that's welcome news for Nick Rauccio. His first warning sign came with the swing of a golf club.

"Back pain, an unusual area in my back, and it wasn't muscle," said Nick. "You can tell when your muscles are hurting."

Doctors told him he had an aortic aneurysm, a dangerous bulge in the large artery that pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

"At five or six centimeters, it could burst, and I would bleed to death in less than three minutes. I was very concerned to have that time bomb ticking," said Nick.

Dr. William Jordan is a vascular surgeon at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He is leading a trend toward less invasive aneurysm repair by using a new generation of aortic stents. He threads the compressed stent through the groin into the abdomen. Then, the stent expands inside the aorta.

"Before, when we would open a patient, we take sutures, stitches and sew an artery into place. Now, we take the same type of graft material, and instead of sewing it in place, we fix it in place with a stent or metal springs," said Dr. Jordan.

Traditionally, treatment meant major open surgery. Organs were temporarily moved to repair the aorta. Patients faced five to seven days in the hospital and six weeks of recovery. With the newer approach, patients are out of the hospital within two days and active again after two weeks.

The less invasive stent procedure also means a lower risk of complications.

"I checked into a hospital on a Tuesday morning," said Nick. "Ten o'clock Wednesday night, I was watching the 10 o'clock news in my easy chair in my living room."

Now, eight weeks later, Rauccio's back at the top of his game.

This new procedure requires more follow-up visits than traditional surgery. It is covered by some insurance carriers as an alternative to major surgery.


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