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Launch of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme

Men aged 65 in Wales will be invited to take part in a new screening programme launched today (May 1, 2013) by Public Health Wales.

The Wales Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme will offer men a quick, painless, one-off test to check for a condition that can be life-threatening if left undetected.

The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. Sometimes, as people grow older, the wall of the aorta in the abdomen can become weak and stretch to form an aneurysm. When this happens there is a risk that the aorta may split or tear (rupture).

Not every AAA will rupture but if it does the chances of getting to hospital in time and surviving surgery are poor.

The new screening programme aims to reduce this risk of rupture through early detection, appropriate monitoring and treatment.

Llywela Wilson, Head of the Wales AAA Screening Programme, said, “We would encourage all men who receive an appointment for AAA screening to take up the offer for this quick, free and very important check of their health.

“There are no signs and symptoms of having an AAA so most men with one will know nothing about it until it ruptures, and their chances of surviving will sadly be very poor.

“The screening programme aims to reduce this risk by providing men with a simple, painless ultrasound scan that will detect whether an AAA is present.

“The screening takes only a few minutes but it really could help save your life.”

An AAA can happen to anybody but is most common in men aged 65 and over who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or have a family history of AAA.

If an aneurysm ruptures, it can cause serious internal bleeding with a high risk of death.  It is estimated that 80 per cent of people who suffer a ruptured AAA will die, usually before reaching hospital.

The aim of the screening programme is to reduce the number of deaths from a ruptured AAA by half in the men invited to be screened, by 2025.

From today (May 1, 2013), all 65-year-old men who live in Wales and are registered with a GP practice, will be sent a letter inviting them to attend a screening appointment which will take ten to 15 minutes.

Screening clinics will be held regularly in locations around Wales such as GP practices, community hospitals and community health facilities.

Previously a small number of individual screening programmes have taken place in GP surgeries in some areas of Wales but this will be the first all-Wales screening programme.

Most men have a normal result so will not need to be screened again.

If an AAA is detected, it could be small, medium or large.  Men with a small AAA will be invited back for a monitoring scan every year, and those with a medium AAA will be invited for further monitoring scans every three months.

Men found to have a large AAA will be referred to hospital to discuss surgical treatment to repair it with a specialist team.

Ambassador for the AAA programme, former Wales rugby international JJ Williams has recently turned 65 and will be taking up his invitation for screening.

He said, “I have to admit that I was unaware of this condition but as soon as I found out more about how serious it can be I was determined that I would take up the offer of screening.

“I know that most men rarely go to the doctors or talk about their health issues which is why I wanted to support this programme and spread the word that just a simple ten minute test could help save your life.

“By attending the screening it ensures that if you have an AAA it will be  detected early and depending on its size, you can be regularly monitored or offered appropriate treatment.”

Although AAA can happen to anyone, there are steps that people can take to reduce their risk of developing an AAA.

These include giving up smoking, eating a healthy balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular exercise.

More information on AAA screening is available from the programme website at www.aaascreening.wales.nhs.uk

Anyone who is not eligible for screening as part of the programme but is concerned about a family history of AAA is advised to speak to their GP.

CASE STUDY

Accepting an invitation from his GP for AAA scan when he turned 65 years old proved to be a life-saving decision for Gordon Lewis.

The retired coal miner from Abercwmboi was found to have a large AAA and within a week of having the scan was undergoing surgery at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Llantrisant to repair the aneurysm.

Now he is urging other men aged 65 to say yes to the invitation to attend the new screening programme in Wales.

The married father of three said, “I didn’t realise that I had anything wrong with me as I had no symptoms and had been feeling fine so when they told me they had found an AAA it was a real shock.

“I am so glad I went because I had a large aneurysm that could have ruptured at any time. I was immediately referred to the hospital and within a week was having surgery.”

Mr Lewis, who has two grandchildren, made a good recovery from the operation and within six weeks was completely back to normal, so much so that his doctor told him he couldn’t believe he had even had surgery.

He knows how lucky he was and is determined to encourage other men to take up the offer to the scan.

He said, “It’s so very important to go for this scan and my family and are I so grateful that I went. If you are lucky you won’t have an AAA but if you do have one, you will be so glad that you went as it really does save your life.

“Since having my operation I have realised that this is something that can affect a number of men my age and will be telling friends that they should definitely have the scan. “

FACTFILE

Things you need to know about AAA

  • AAA is six times more common in men than women, and becomes increasingly common with age.
  • Ruptured aneurysms are a small but significant, cause of death in the UK.  In the UK, each year an estimated 6,000 people die as a result of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. In men over 65, ruptured AAA is responsible for 2.1 per cent of all deaths.
  • In Wales in 2010, there were 246 deaths from AAA in men, 95 per cent of which were in men aged over 65. Around half the deaths attributed to ruptured aneurysms take place before the patient reaches hospital
  • About 95 men out of 100 (95 per cent) who are screened for an AAA will have a normal result
  • About four men out of 100 (4 per cent) will have a small or medium-sized AAA
  • Six men out of 1,000 (0.6 per cent) will have a large AAA

 

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