If You Feel This Near Your Belly Button, Get Checked for an Aneurysm

It could be completely normal or a major red flag, depending on one thing.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) occurs when the aorta, a major vessel that provides blood to the body, becomes severely weakened. This can lead to bulging or swelling of the vessel which may worsen over time, either gradually or rapidly. In the worst case scenario, an abdominal aneurysm can also rupture, causing life-endangering internal bleeding—and if this happens, your chances of survival are slim. However, if detected early, there are several options for intervention which just might save your life. Read on to learn the key symptoms of AAA that could help you spot a problem sooner—including one that you may feel near your belly button.

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Aneurysms are known as "silent killers."

Closeup of doctor's hands while explaining to patient

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are difficult to detect, says Ali Azizzadeh, MD, FACS, director of the Division of Vascular Surgery at Cedars-Sinai. "Most aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic, leaving the patients unaware of their disease.  That's why they are sometimes referred to as a 'time bomb' or 'silent killer,'" Azizzadeh tells Best Life. "Many are detected when patients have imaging for other complaints. For example, a CT scan done in the emergency room after a car accident reveals a previously undetected abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)."

Yet according to the Mayo Clinic, there are a few key signs of AAA that are most likely to tip you off to the condition. Individually, they could all be attributed to other conditions or considered completely normal. However, experienced together, they can suggest a growing aneurysm, which may require immediate care or even emergency surgery.

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Feeling this near your belly button can be a red flag.

Main holding stomach, feeling aortic pulse

Feeling a strong pulse to the left of your belly button can be absolutely normal, since the aorta runs down your chest, carrying blood from the heart to the rest of your body. According to Penn Medicine, you're most likely to notice a strong pulse in that area during or after a meal, while lying down, or during pregnancy.

However, if you notice a strong pulse alongside another key symptom, you may have reason to suspect abdominal aortic aneurysm. Read on to learn which corroborating symptom may suggest a more serious problem.

Pain in the abdomen or back are also key symptoms.

Woman curled up on cough with abdominal pain

The Mayo Clinic warns that having "deep, constant pain" in the front or side of the abdomen is another symptom of AAA—as is back pain. "Pain is the most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm," say experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine, noting that the sensation may extend as far as the chest or groin area. "The pain may be severe or dull. Sudden, severe pain in the back or abdomen may mean the aneurysm is about to rupture," they write. "This is a life-threatening medical emergency."

Azizzadeh notes that, even absent symptoms, individuals at high risk for AAA should ask their doctors about a screening. "Patients who have risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, history of [tobacco use], or relatives with aneurysms should consult with their physicians about potential screening. The Screening Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms Very Efficiently (SAAAVE) Act, which was enacted by Congress in 2007, covers screening as part of the Welcome to Medicare physical for some high risk patients," he adds.

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Watch for these signs of a ruptured aneurysm.

Senior man with a painful back-kidney on a medical exam.

Experts say if an abdominal aneurysm is discovered in the early stages, your doctor's main objective will be to prevent aortic dissection or rupture. Most likely, this would involve a surgery which replaces the weakened or bulging part of the blood vessel with synthetic tubing.

Being proactive about screening and preventative care—especially if you're at high risk—could have a dramatic, lifesaving effect. "A ruptured aneurysm can cause massive internal bleeding, which is usually fatal," explains the U.K.'s National Health Services. "Around eight out of 10 people with a rupture either die before they reach hospital or don't survive surgery."

Signs that an aortic aneurysm has in fact ruptured may include a sudden, intense pain which feels like "tearing" in the abdominal or back, a drop in blood pressure, or rapid pulse. If you believe you are suffering from a ruptured aneurysm, call 911 immediately.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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