Neurology Insights

What You Need to Know about Brain Aneurysms

Brain Aneurysm Scans showing where an aneurysm occurred

When you hear the word aneurysm, what comes to mind? For many, this term can imply a stroke-like attack. You may have heard or even used the phrase “I’m having an aneurysm” to describe levels of extreme stress during a high-pressure moment. An aneurysm, however, is not what most people think. Most people with aneurysms can go about their day-to-day lives without experiencing any symptoms at all, and multiple types of aneurysms can result in different outcomes.

What is a brain aneurysm?

A brain aneurysm, also known as a cerebral aneurysm, is an abnormal bulge resembling a small balloon that forms along the weakened wall of a blood vessel in the brain. This bulge forms as pressure builds within the artery, and the weakened spot collapses.

An aneurysm can also occur alongside the arterial wall of blood vessels throughout the body, giving way to multiple forms of aneurysms, including:

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
  • Common Iliac Artery Aneurysm
  • Femoral and Popliteal Artery Aneurysm

With aneurysms, some are more dangerous than others, depending on the placement within the body. A leak or rupture of this bulge can result in life-threatening measures and even death. In a brain aneurysm, this rupture, or “brain bleed,” is also referred to as hemorrhagic stroke.

Graphic showing a closeup of an aneurysm in a patients brain. It shows the blood vessel and where the aneurysm occurred.

Facts & Misconceptions about Brain Aneurysms

According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, 6.7 million people live with a brain aneurysm in the United States alone, and of those, 30,000 suffer an aneurysm rupture each year.

Although aneurysms can affect people of all ages, including children, they are most likely to occur in the following groups:

  • People between the ages of 35-60
  • Individuals with a genetic history of blood vessel defect
  • Women over 55
  • African American & Hispanic ethnicities

When a person experiences a brain aneurysm rupture, a fatality occurs in 50% of cases; 66% have permanent neurological damage and disability.

If you or a loved one live with a brain aneurysm, not all hope is lost, as successful management is possible in many cases.

  • Not all aneurysms are deadly. Most aneurysms are less than an inch small, and if monitored and treated preventatively, chances of fatality decrease substantially.
  • Aneurysms do not develop overnight. Although for some, years can go by without any signs of aneurysm, brain aneurysms develop over a long period of time via pressure within the blood vessel.
  • It is possible to live with multiple unruptured aneurysms. 20% of individuals who are diagnosed with brain aneurysms live with multiple bulges. Although this poses a higher risk, it can be treated via strategized management and intervention.

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Aneurysm

When it comes to brain aneurysms, there are two types of symptoms to look out for: Unruptured and ruptured aneurysm symptoms.

With unruptured brain aneurysm symptoms, patients describe sensory disturbances such as changes in vision (i.e., double vision), dizziness, sinus pressure around the eyes and ears, and facial numbness. Additional changes can include enlarged pupil in one eye, speech difficulty, memory problems, and balance issues. Individuals often consult various specialists, only to ultimately find clarity about a brain aneurysm diagnosis when they see a neurologist.

In the case of aneurysm rupture, symptoms are severe, sudden, and considered an immediate medical emergency. Most recognized as “the worst headache of one’s life” (“like an explosion going off in my head”), a ruptured aneurysm will also coincide with several additional symptoms such as extreme head pressure, severe pain in the jaw, teeth, and roots of teeth, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty with coordination, and loss of consciousness. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately when facing these symptoms.

Early Detection & Prevention

As with many brain conditions, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is essential to seek medical evaluation as early as possible if you or a loved one suspects you may be living with a possible brain aneurysm or have a history of blood vessel defects.

Medical imaging such as CT scan, MRI, and MRA can identify blood vessel bulges, location, and size and identify any possible leaks or further risk factors and complications.

If an aneurysm is identified, possible treatment options include changes to lifestyle as well as endovascular treatment, in which the aneurysm sac is coiled or stented via a threaded catheter through the blood vessel or surgery in which a craniotomy (skull surgery) is done to prevent further blood flow to the aneurysm. Endovascular treatment is a low-risk option.

Can Aneurysms be prevented?

Although definite prevention of brain aneurysm is not possible, eliminating key risk factors can significantly reduce one’s risk of developing a brain aneurysm. These lifestyle commitments include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Keeping a healthy blood pressure
  • Living a smoke-free lifestyle
  • Avoid consuming high-fat and fried foods
  • Getting adequate sleep to reduce the 24% risk of aneurysm rupture

A Message From Dr. Kandel

“First of all, if any of your family members have aneurysms, it is important to be checked for an aneurysm. Diagnostic testing is relatively simple, safe, and effective. There is no reason not to check for this.

Second, time is of the essence if you think an aneurysm is occurring. Do not drive to the hospital; instead, dial 911 and explain you think you are having an aneurysm. Making it to the hospital is the first marker of successful treatment.

Recovery from an aneurysm rupture can be highly variable, but it is clear that the more rehabilitation that you do with a comprehensive team approach, the greater your chances of a successful recovery.”

At Neurology Office, we hope you found this article insightful. For more resources on brain aneurysm, feel free to visit the following:

Brain Aneurysm Foundation

Dr. Joseph Kandel portrait

Joseph Kandel, MD

Board Certified Neurologist
Serving Naples and Fort Myers, FL

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