The genetics of abdominal aortic aneurysm

Published on July 23, 2013   33 min

A selection of talks on Genetics & Epigenetics

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Hello, my name is Seamus C. Harrison and I'm a vascular surgeon. I work at University College London and today I will give a talk about the genetics of abdominal aortic aneurysms, a field that I've been working in for some years now.
An aneurysm is defined as a localized dilatation of an artery or chamber. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a dilatation of the aorta below the renal vessels. In this cartoon from the NHS website, you can see an aneurysm labeled as 3. It's essentially a ballooning of the aorta below the level of the kidneys. In practical terms, we use a size threshold of about three centimeters to define an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Aneurysms occur in approximately 5 percent of males over the age of 65, but it's much less common and females where the prevalence is probably less than 1 percent in the similar age group. The major non-modifiable risk factors for developing an aneurysm are increasing age )it's very uncommon under the age of 60), male sex and a family history of the disease. Cigarette smoking is by far the most important modifiable risk factor. Current smokers are somewhere in the region of ten times more likely to have an aneurysm than people who don't smoke. Other cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension or high cholesterol may play a role, but their relationship doesn't seem to be as strong as for other forms of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease. Interestingly, one of the major factors for developing atherosclerosis, diabetes, seems to be protective against aneurysms. That is to say people who have diabetes are less likely to develop an aneurysm than people without. This is a rather unexpected finding,. This is an interesting question that we probably don't have the answer to, are aneurysms caused by atherosclerosis?