August 1988

Selective Screening for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms With Physical Examination and Ultrasound

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine (Dr Lederle and Ms Walker), and the Department of Diagnostic Radiology (Dr Reinke), Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center, University of Minnesota.

Arch Intern Med. 1988;148(8):1753-1756. doi:10.1001/archinte.1988.00380080049015

• Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an important cause of preventable death in older persons. Persistently high rupture mortality rates indicate that these deaths can be prevented only by early detection and treatment of AAA. In an effort to develop an effective and efficient program of AAA detection, we selectively screened a high-risk population. Men aged 60 to 75 years with hypertension and/or coronary artery disease were randomly selected from a general medicine clinic and screened with physical examination and ultrasound. Eighteen previously unsuspected aneurysms, 3.6 to 5.9 cm in size (mean, 4.4 cm), were detected in 201 patients, for a prevalence of 9% (95% confidence interval: 4.7% to 13.3%). The specificity and positive predictive value of ultrasound were each 100%. Abdominal palpation detected only half of these aneurysms, but missed none in patients with an abdominal girth less than 100 cm (n=6). This degree of sensitivity did not occur with "routine" examinations and requires that the examination be directed specifically toward AAA detection. We conclude that undiagnosed AAAs are common in this large subgroup of the clinic population, that ultrasound is an excellent screening test for AAAs, and that physical examination may be adequate for screening thin patients. We recommend that every two or three years persons over the age of 50 years undergo careful abdominal palpation aimed at detecting AAAs, as part of the periodic health examination. We further recommend that obese older men at high risk for AAA have at least one-time screening with abdominal ultrasound, regardless of findings on physical examination.

(Arch Intern Med 1988;148:1753-1756)