Free ‘Triple A’ screening program looking for a silent killer

A simple and quick medical screening procedure to detect a potentially deadly condition in older men will once again be offered free in Broken Hill.

All men in Broken Hill aged between 65 and 74 will be invited to screen for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (“Triple A”). Triple A is a condition that is caused by an abnormal enlargement of the aorta in the back of the abdomen. The aorta is the major artery taking blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Most people with AAA are unaware of its presence until it leaks or ruptures. In the event of leakage, the only way to save the patient is prompt surgery with specialised equipment and techniques. If it ruptures, immediate surgery, even in specialist centres, seldom saves the patient.

The Triple A screening program will be conducted at Broken Hill Hospital on 23-24 and 30-31 of May 2015. Invitations will be sent by the Australian Department of Human Services to all men in the 65-74-year age groups inviting them to participate.

BH Hospital Consultant Physician and AAA screening advocate, Dr Stephen Flecknoe-Brown said the ‘target group’ represents the people who will benefit most from having an abdominal aortic aneurysm found and treated while it is silent.

“The screening procedure, which is performed by ultrasound, is painless and only takes about ten minutes,’’ Dr Flecknoe-Brown said. The screening program aims to detect as many people in the community as possible with silent AAAs, so that they can be fixed electively by less invasive and hazardous procedures than emergency surgery.

“Most men don’t know they have got it – but the good news is there is something we can do about it,” Dr Flecknoe-Brown said. The screening program follows up a screening program conducted in 2007 and 2008. That program was conducted by the University Department of Rural Health, the University of Sydney’s Vascular Surgery Department at Westmead, and conducted at the Broken Hill Centre for Community. It was funded partly by a grant from the NSW Rural Research collaborative and a community group called the Triple A Initiative. The project was awarded a Premier’s Public Sector Silver service award in 2008.

“Now, the Commonwealth Government has accepted the value of universal AAA screening for men over the age of 65 who have ever been smokers,” said Dr Flecknoe-Brown.

“This second round of screening catches up with those who were too young to be offered it last time. We anticipate a national AAA screening program which will catch all men as they turn 65. This is how AAA screening programs in the USA, Great Britain and New Zealand operate,” he said.

The Far West Medicare Local is supporting booking of subjects and the Far West LHD has agreed to provide ultrasound equipment on the two weekends. The Triple A Initiative will pay for the cost of the mailing out of invitations by the Commonwealth, the sonographer’s travel and accommodation and an information session for local General Practitioners.

While it was important for men to take advantage of the screening, Dr Flecknoe-Brown said they should wait to receive a letter of invitation before ringing, so appointments can be arranged.

Invitations will be posted to all eligible men and will include a questionnaire to assist with the evaluation of the program. Dr Flecknoe-Brown urged every participant to fill in his form and bring it to the screening.

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