Each year, more than 10,000 Americans die unexpectedly from rapid internal bleeding triggered by ruptured aortic artery aneurysms. The most common type of aneurysm is the abdominal aortic aneurysm, which lurks where the heart’s aorta artery threads through the belly. Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are up to 85-percent fatal and doctors have long wished for a way to diagnose them early.
“It’s a big public health problem,” said Dr. Weihong Tang, University of Minnesota School of Public Health associate professor. “AAAs are found in young and middle-aged people and affect up to two percent of Americans who are 65 years or older.”
In a study recently published in Circulation, Dr. Tang and her colleagues confirmed the existence of six molecules and proteins in the blood that precede or coincide with the development of AAAs. Identifying the biomarkers might lead to improved understanding of AAA formation, aid in its diagnosis or prognosis, and identify treatment targets.
To find out if the biomarkers are related to AAAs, Dr. Tang and colleagues partnered with the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study that has been tracking approximately 16,000 people for nearly 30 years. They identified participants who eventually developed AAAs by examining hospital and death records, and performed abdominal ultrasound scans on participants to search for undiagnosed AAAs. Overall, a total of 661 AAA cases were found — 74 of them through the study’s ultrasounds.
By studying blood samples taken over time, the researchers found that the more of each type of biomarker a person had at a high level, the more likely they were to have developed an AAA. Those with high levels of all six biomarkers had a 10-fold risk of developing the condition compared to those who had the six biomarkers at intermediate or low levels.