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Screening saves 759 from 'ticking time bomb' aortic aneurysm

By Lisa Smyth

Hundreds of lives across Northern Ireland are being saved by a programme that screens for a catastrophic condition that can kill within minutes.

Each year around 80 to 100 people here die from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

Most people with the condition will not know that they have an aneurysm as they rarely have symptoms, but it is often life-threatening if it bursts - a ruptured AAA leads to serious internal bleeding that is fatal in 85% of cases.

Research shows that men are six times more likely to have this type of aneurysm than women, and the chance of having one increases with age.

As a result health officials launched a screening programme in 2012 for men over the age of 65.

Since then more than 49,000 men have been scanned and 759 AAAs detected.

More than 110 men have been referred to the vascular team, which decides whether the patient requires surgery.

The remaining 85% of men who have tested positive for AAA are routinely monitored by health professionals to check whether it is growing in size.

John Toner (69), from Newcastle, Co Down, attended a screening appointment four years ago and was diagnosed with AAA as a result.

"I was invited to go along for a scan and was told I had a small aneurysm," explained Mr Toner.

"I was totally unaware of it and if it hadn't been for the scan I wouldn't have known anything.

"It was a very straightforward and painless procedure, I was quite amazed by it all."

The father-of-five and grandfather-of-seven was originally recalled for a scan on an annual basis and, when he returned the following year, it emerged that his aneurysm had increased in size."

He added: "You get such great reassurance from the public health team who look after you.

"I was feeling great when I found out I had an aneurysm, but really I was a ticking time bomb and I had no idea."

Sarah-Louise Dornan, the Northern Ireland AAA screening programme manager, said it is vital that men attend for a scan when invited.

"Results are given on the same day and more than 98% of men will have a normal result, however, for those who have an AAA, it allows us to monitor them and take appropriate action to manage the risk," she added.

"It isn't too extreme to say that this programme saves lives."

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