A brain aneurysm (also called cerebral aneurysm) is a bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery that can potentially burst or rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, an estimated 6 million people in the United States have a brain aneurysm. A rupture of an aneurysm is a very rare event, and most people do not experience any symptoms in advance of a rupture. About 40% of ruptures result in death, and of those who survive, approximately 66% have some permanent brain damage. Therefore, early diagnosis (when possible) and treatment is crucial.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms will depend on the size, shape and location of the aneurysm. Most people with an unruptured brain aneurysm will not experience any symptoms at all. Some signs and symptoms of an unruptured brain aneurysm may include: severe headache, blurry or double vision, pain behind or around the eye, weakness and trouble speaking. It’s important to get medical attention right away if you experience any of these signs and symptoms.
If an aneurysm ruptures (blood leaks into the brain and causes damage to the brain tissue), it is especially critical to get immediate medical care—a rupture can lead to serious complications such as stroke, coma or death. Signs and symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm may include:
- Sudden headache that is very severe and painful (the “worst headache” you’ve ever had)
- Sudden blurry vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden eye pain
- Drooping eye lids
- Stiff neck
- Sudden weakness and numbness
- Difficulty speaking
- Sudden dizziness
In most people, brain aneurysms are more common in those over 40 years, but they can develop at any age, even in children. They are more common in women than men and in people with a family history of the condition. For some, genetic disorders or abnormalities can lead to brain aneurysms. Other risk factors can include:
- High blood pressure
- Hardening of the arteries
- Head injury
- Drug use
- Heavy alcohol use
- Medical conditions such as polycystic kidney disease, endocarditis
Diagnosing and Treating an Aneurysm
There are a few tests that are used to detect a brain aneurysm, such as:
- Angiogram—a test in which a dye is injected in the artery or veins to see the blood flow in the brain
- Computed tomography (CT scan)—a noninvasive scan of the head to look for any aneurysms or ruptures. This process is usually combined with an angiogram
- Magnetic resonance imaging or angiography (MRI/A)—a noninvasive procedure that uses radio waves and magnetic fields to make detailed images of the brain and other structures
- Cerebrospinal fluid analysis—a procedure in which a small amount of fluid near the brain is removed and tested to see if an aneurysm has ruptured
If a brain aneurysm has ruptured, surgery may be required to prevent further ruptures, to restore oxygen to the brain, or to reduce high pressure in the brain. Two common surgeries include: (1) clipping, the closing off of blood flow to the aneurysm by placing tiny metal clips on the neck of the aneurysm, and (2) coiling, the inserting of a wire coil inside the aneurysm causing a blood clot which seals off the aneurysm.
For aneurysms that have not ruptured, the doctor will carefully weigh the pros and cons of either treating it with a clip or coil or just monitoring it (observation). He or she will consider your other medical conditions, the size and location of the aneurysm, whether the aneurysm is likely to rupture, among other things.
What You Can Do
It’s important to speak with a doctor about brain aneurysms and discuss if you have a family history or a previous personal history of them. Those who have one aneurysm have a 10% to 15% chance of developing another one. Also, making healthy lifestyle choices may help prevent them from bursting or developing. Here are a few tips:
- Stop smoking (if you smoke) and don’t use illegal drugs
- Control your blood pressure
- Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise
- Be sure to follow up with your doctor regularly because lifelong monitoring is required
- Report any change in your symptoms to your doctor right away
Remember to review the important facts on brain aneurysms below provided by the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. It can help save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Reviewed by Margaret Frazer, MD, FAAN, Pfizer Medical Director.
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