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Spotlighting Health

Heritage Health focuses on important health topics every month. 

The silent killer
Abdominal aortic aneurysms maybe lurking

Grady used to be a heavy smoker in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s what everyone did. 


The Post Falls man eventually quit cigarettes but didn’t think about the long-term consequences. He lived his life without any problems for years. Then he had a routine exam and his physician recommended, he get checked for abdominal aortic aneurysm.


“I couldn’t believe it,” Grady recalled. “But I went in for an ultrasound and they found one in my stomach. The next thing I know I am getting surgery to have it repaired. I could have died. I had no idea I was at risk.”


Dr. Daniel Henbest with Heritage Health said, “Tobacco use is a well-established risk factor for a myriad of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. One of the less commonly recognized risks associated with tobacco use is abdominal aortic aneurysms, which are a potentially fatal complication of tobacco use that can result in catastrophic internal bleeding.”


Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) occur when the walls of a blood vessel become damaged and thinned. This can result in a ballooning out of that blood vessel, and, like a balloon, they can burst.


“If it bursts, a person will suffer from internal bleeding and possibly death,” he said. “People are generally asymptomatic until they rupture.”


This is a “silent killer” condition that led to the death of Albert Einstein — and is responsible for nearly 5,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.


Understanding the risks associated with cigarettes and cardiopulmonary disease is crucial in order to screen for potentially life-threatening conditions and provide early treatment and intervention.


Henbest recommends patient screening to find the abdominal aortic aneurysm.


“Any man over the age of 65 who has smoked is considered to be high risk,” said Henbest. “Even if they have only smoked one pack of cigarettes in their life.”


“Screening is a simple ultrasound which carries no radiation risk,” he said. “The screening is generally covered by Medicare and other private insurance without any co-pay. These are critical screenings so people shouldn’t put them off.”


In Grady’s case, he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm lurking inside his body.


“I had no idea it was there,” said the 70-year-old. “If it had burst, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. I credit Dr. Henbest for saving my life.”


February is National Heart Health Month. Talk to your provider about your heart and your health history. Call (208) 620-5250 to schedule an appointment. 


Dr. Daniel Henbest

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