An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the wall of an artery, an inflated balloon of blood. Aneurysms can occur in many parts of the body. They usually develop where the pressure is strongest, that is, in areas where blood vessels divide and branch off. An aneurysm is extremely dangerous since it may result in rupture and subsequent hemorrhage or the development of a serious clot.
Unruptured brain aneurysms are typically completely asymptomatic, showing no symptoms. These aneurysms are typically small, usually less than one-half inch in diameter. However, large unruptured aneurysms can occasionally press on the brain or the nerves stemming out of the brain and may result in various neurological symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, regardless of age, you should undergo immediate and careful evaluation by a physician.
- Localized Headache
- Dilated pupils
- Blurred or double vision
- Pain above and behind eye
- Weakness and numbness
- Difficulty speaking
Ruptured brain aneurysms usually result in a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which is defined as bleeding into the subarachnoid space. When blood escapes into the space around the brain, it can cause sudden symptoms.
Seek Medical Attention Immediately If You Are Experiencing Any Of These Symptoms:
- Sudden severe headache
- Loss of consciousness
- Stiff Neck
- Sudden blurred or double vision
- Sudden pain above/behind the eye or difficulty seeing
- Sudden change in mental status/awareness
- Sudden trouble walking or dizziness
- Sudden weakness and numbness
- Sensitivity to light
- Drooping eyelid
Causes of an Aneurysm
There is no clearly recognized cause for the development of an aneurysm. Some aneurysms are congenital, already present at birth. Others may result from a slight defect in part of an arterial wall. Though there is no known cause of aneurysms, there are risk factors which make it more likely that a particular individual may develop one. These risk factors may include:
- Poor elasticity of arterial walls
- Plaque buildup on arterial walls
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Infections of the blood
Types of Aneurysm
Aneurysms can occur in many different parts of the body. They are usually categorized according to the types which occur most frequently:
Aortic aneurysms – These aneurysms occur along the aorta, the major artery leaving the heart.
Cerebral aneurysms – These aneurysms occur in arteries supplying the brain.
Peripheral aneurysms – These aneurysms form in blood vessels in other parts of the body, including the leg, groin, neck or abdominal area.
How is a Brain Aneurysm Diagnosed?
Many aneurysms are detected during an imaging scan performed for other reasons. Your doctor may recommend diagnostic imaging and testing if you have a family history of aneurysms or are exhibiting symptoms that may indicate an unruptured aneurysm.
Some of the various diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
- Computerized tomography. This is better known as a CT scan. During this painless, specialized x-ray, 2D "slices" of the brain are observed. Many such slices may be captured, allowing the doctor to visualize whether bleeding in the brain is occurring or if some other type of stroke has occurred.
- Magnetic resonance imaging. Known as an MRI, this imaging test can capture either 2D or 3D images of the brain. This test works via radio waves and a magnetic field to detect abnormalities like aneurysms.
- Cerebrospinal fluid test. If your CT scan does not indicate bleeding but you are demonstrating symptoms of a brain aneurysm, your doctor may order a test of your cerebrospinal fluid. If there is bleeding into the subarachnoid space, red blood cells will be present in the fluid.
- Cerebral angiogram. This minimally invasive test is conducted using a flexible catheter. This long tube is inserted into an artery in the wrist, groin, or another area. Using a special dye called contrast dye, delivered through the catheter to the arteries in the brain, the doctor can spot an aneurysm on x-ray films or a CT scan more readily. Cerebral angiograms are typically performed only when other tests are inconclusive.
What Treatment is Advised for an Unruptured Aneurysm?
If an aneurysm ruptures, emergency surgery may be needed to stop bleeding to or within the brain. This may involve clipping the blood vessel or placing a coil or stent, called a flow disrupter, to prevent further complications. Aneurysm clipping and endovascular coiling may be considered for unruptured aneurysms as well.
If you've been diagnosed with an aneurysm that does not require immediate surgery to prevent imminent rupture, your doctor may explore several options. These will take into account your age and overall health, your family history, particularly around cardiovascular health, and the location, size, and severity of the aneurysm itself.
In addition to receiving recommended medical treatment. You may also be strongly encouraged to implement various changes in order to lower the risk of rupture. These may include:
- Avoiding tobacco use and smoking.
- Controlling your blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
Can I Prevent an Aneurysm?
There is no way to completely eliminate the chances of developing an aneurysm in your lifetime. That said, by understanding the factors that contribute to this condition, you can reduce your risks. Some suggestions include:
- Stick to a diet that is low in trans fats, saturated fats, sodium, and calories. Doing so reduces your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and clogged arteries, all risk factors for an aneurysm.
- Take steps and receive appropriate care if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Keeping these levels within a normal range is vital to aneurysm prevention.
- Engage in regular, low-impact exercise. Studies have shown that doing so can reduce the risk of needing surgery for an existing aneurysm.