How the NHS abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening programme works: who is eligible, what it does and learn how to contact the programme.
Information for the public about abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is available on the NHS website and in the below animation.
It is an individual’s choice whether or not to have screening. People can opt out if they do not want to receive screening invitations.
Public Health England (PHE) is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in screening participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.
PHE provides information about data use and patient confidentiality in population screening programmes.
AAA screening is offered to men during the screening year (1 April to 31 March) that they turn 65. Men aged 65 and over are most at risk of AAAs, and screening can help spot a swelling in the aorta at an early stage.
Screening is not routinely offered to groups where there is a smaller risk of an AAA. These are:
- men under the age of 65
- anyone who has already been treated for an AAA
Men who are resident in England receive an invitation in the post for screening when they are aged 64 or 65.
Men over 65 who have not received an invitation can contact their local AAA screening service to make an appointment.
Any women, or men under 65 who think they are at higher risk (for example, due to family history of the condition) can talk to their GP about the possibility of having a scan outside the screening programme.
Condition screened for
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy. The NHS website has more information, including:
- symptoms of an AAA
- treatments of an AAA
- reducing your risk of an AAA
AAA screening test
The AAA screening test is a quick and painless ultrasound scan of the abdomen (tummy).
It is like the scan pregnant women have to check on their baby.
For the scan:
- The man lies down on a table and lifts up or unbuttons his top (he does not need to undress).
- The scanning technician rubs a clear gel on the tummy and moves a small handheld scanner over the skin – pictures from the scanner are shown on a monitor and the technician measures how wide the aorta is.
- The technician wipes away the gel and the man pulls down or buttons up their top.
- The technician tells the man his screening result straight away.
The whole test usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
There are 4 AAA screening results. These are:
- no aneurysm found
- small AAA
- medium AAA
- large AAA
You can read more on the NHS website about what each result means, and what will happen next.
AAA screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes available in England.
The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.
Read the UK NSC recommendation on AAA screening.
Data and intelligence
Requests for screening data and research
All requests for screening data need to be approved by the NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Programme Research Advisory Committee.
PHE has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.
PHE publishes the AAA screening pathway requirements specification, which provides an overview of AAA screening by describing what should happen at each stage of the end-to-end pathway. Providers and commissioners should use this to ensure high quality and consistent screening services.
Providers and commissioners should also use the supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up and meets the required standards.
The role of the screening quality assurance service (SQAS) is to:
- assess the quality of local screening programmes
- monitor compliance with standards
- support services with improving quality
- undertake regional level quality assurance visits
The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the AAA screening programme should be read in conjunction with the operating model for PHE screening quality assurance service and the relevant programme standards.
Workforce: education and training
Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in AAA screening.
There are also more general resources about population screening to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).
Keep up to date
Follow PHE Screening on Twitter.
Contact the screening team
Population screening helpdesk
The helpdesk is not for media enquiries and does not have access to screening results. For queries about results, contact your GP or local screening service. Order screening leaflets at www.gov.uk/phe/screening-leaflets.