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We told you yesterday of the sad passing of actor Tommy Ford, who played the beloved Tommy Strawn on Martin and Lt. Malcolm Barker on New York Undercover. The actor died at 52 after being put on life support when an aneurysm burst in his abdomen. Many people are aware of aneurysms in the brain, but very few of us know much about an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is just as deadly and hard to detect. After hearing that it was the cause of Ford’s death, we thought it would be good to gather up more information on it. The more you know…

About The Aorta

According to the Mayo Clinic, the aorta, which is about as thick as a garden hose, “runs form your heart through the center of your chest and abdomen.” When you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a dangerous amount of blood is released when a rupture occurs, as the aorta is the main supplier of blood to the body.

The Symptoms

According to experts, signs and symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm are few and far between, so they can be hard to detect ahead of time. They can grow slowly, and some never rupture, but some also grow quickly and do indeed rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding. If one gets large, there’s a chance you might find yourself dealing with back pain and abdominal pain, but, again, an abdominal aortic aneurysm can grow without symptoms.

You may be able to track this form of an aneurysm if your doctor examines your abdomen during a visit and notices a lump in it, a “pulsating sensation,” or an abdomen that feels stiff. It can also be tracked when expansion is less advanced through an ultrasound of the abdomen, a CT scan, or a computed tomographic angiogram when preparing for a surgery.

The Causes

Causes for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, brought about when the wall of the aorta weakens as it expands, are relatively unknown. But according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s publication, Medline, your risk for this increases if you smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are male, and have certain genetic factors. The site reports that an “abdominal aortic aneurysm is most often seen in males over age 60 who have one or more risk factors.” In Ford’s case, he was only 52.

If Complications from Other Surgeries Cause It

Two weeks ago, Ford had knee replacement surgery. While some wondered if complications from that may have played a part in the actor’s aneurysm, Carol Richardson-Te, M.D. told Hollywood Life that other surgeries and procedures, specifically one done on the knee, wouldn’t have anything to do with an aneurysm.

“An aneurysm is an abnormality in a blood vessel wall,” she said. “Most of the time this is something that we don’t pick up unless we find them incidentally or they become symptomatic. Sometimes people will complain of headaches, dizziness or things like that and we scan their brains and we find it. They are not always deadly. You can find it and a neurosurgeon can go in there and clip it, it is a intervention where they try to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing. A knee surgery would not cause an aneurysm. The aneurysm is totally unrelated.”

The Outlook

If caught before a rupture, the outlook for someone with an enlarged aorta can be good. But on the flip side, if it ruptures, it’s been found that only one in five people survive it. The Cleveland Clinic says that in early expansion cases, going to the doctor to be observed every few months could suffice. However, if things are bad and you need surgery, options include open surgical repair, or a stent-graft being placed in your body to help prevent a rupture and give your body a new channel through which blood can flow.

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