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Screening system to detect silent killer

posted 20 Aug 2009, 04:00 by myEdinburgh Admin
One of NHS Lothian s top surgeons has helped to create a groundbreaking screening programme for a lethal condition dubbed the  silent killer .

Scotland's first men-only detection system has been designed to identify patients at risk from abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

Scores of people die every year in Scotland from the aneurysms and experts are confident they could save up to 170 lives with the launch of the new programme.

Older men are up to seven times more at risk from developing an AAA than women in the same age range and the screening programme is designed to target them.

Rod Chalmers, vascular consultant at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, said all men over the age of 65 will be offered the test which uses a simple ultrasound scan to detect an AAA   or a bulge in the vessel in the stomach - before it presents a problem or ruptures.

He said:  Aortic aneurysms are known as  the silent killer  because they often show no symptoms until they burst. When that happens only about half of patients even make it to hospital.

 A screening programme to detect them in advance will allow us to save thousands of lives by providing early treatment.

An aneurysm is a bulge which develops in the aorta   the body s largest blood vessel.

If the vessel ruptures it can lead to massive, often fatal, blood loss, but worryingly AAAs show no symptoms meaning that most patients will not know they are at risk until it is too late.

It is hoped this new programme will remove the risk by identifying a potential problem early, allowing experts to treat it quickly with simple non-invasive surgery.

If the test is negative, it effectively rules out the risk for the rest of that man s life.

Mr Chalmers helped design the Scottish programme which will begin in 2011 and is funded by the Scottish Government.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced, during the 2008 NHS Scotland Event in Glasgow, that £5m was being ring-fenced for the project.

Once patients are identified they will undergo a repair procedure   one which Mr Chalmers and his team carried out more than 120 times last year.

An increasing number of AAA repairs are carried out using a minimally invasive operation called an endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR).

This is a technically advanced approach in which two small incisions are made in the groin.

A fabric tube called a stent graft is passed through these cuts and positioned in the aorta to exclude the AAA from the circulation and redirect the blood flow.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh is home to one of the country s leading centres for vascular surgery and has some of the most up-to-date facilities.

Mr Chalmers also leads the national thoraco-abdominal aortic aneurysm (TAAA) service, which is run by the hospital and treats patients from across Scotland.

The service deals with extensive aortic aneurysms involving the aorta in the chest and abdomen, using either open surgery or endovascular techniques.

It was established in 2000 and treats up to 40 patients a year, as well as providing training for surgeons, radiologists and anaesthetists.