Surgeon says men can cut early death risk by having 'pregnancy' scan

Mr Gareth MorrisA leading surgeon based at Southampton’s teaching hospitals has said men aged 65 and over can cut their risk of premature death – by having a ‘pregnancy’ scan.

Gareth Morris, a consultant vascular surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said a simple ten-minute stomach ultrasound could diagnose or rule out abdominal aortic aneurysms, which are responsible for 5,000 deaths – mostly among older men – in England and Wales every year.

The condition, which develops when the main blood vessel in the body weakens and expands, can be managed through regular monitoring or corrected with surgery – but undetected large aneurysms (5.5cm or more) can rupture and prove fatal in the majority of cases.

But Mr Morris said the recent nationwide rollout of a screening programme he helped to develop – the NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme – could halve the current death rate.

“There are so many avoidable deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms and it is a real tragedy because we know a quick scan will save lives through either monitoring or corrective surgery – but timing is everything,” he explained.

“The condition is often symptomless, so I would strongly advise men to consider the offer of a screening test, which is a simple scan similar to that offered to women in pregnancy, particularly if they are in a high risk group.”

Men are six times more likely than women to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm, with current or former smokers, high blood pressure sufferers or those with close family history (parent or sibling) of the condition most at risk.  

Although the programme launched nationally last week, the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight AAA Screening Programme, led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, is already in its second year of operation.

More than 8,000 men underwent abdominal aortic aneurysms ultrasound across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight last year, with 18 referred for surgery to repair aneurysms of 5.5cm or more. Justin Sanders, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight AAA Screening coordinator, said: “While we had a very successful response to our invitations in the first year, there are many more men, particularly around the central Southampton area, we would like to see to either rule out the condition or diagnose and begin monitoring or treatment.”

All men whose 65th birthdays fall on or after 1 April 2013 will be automatically invited for screening, while men in their late 60s or early 70s who have not previously been screened can self-refer. 

To contact the Hampshire and Isle of Wight team, call 023 8120 6279 or visit

Posted on Thursday 11 July 2013