A brain aneurysm occurs when a weak spot in your
brain’s arterial wall bulges and fills with blood. It may also be called an
intracranial aneurysm or cerebral aneurysm.
A brain aneurysm is a potentially life-threatening
condition that can affect a person at any age. If a brain aneurysm bursts, it’s
an emergency situation that can result in a stroke, brain damage, and even
death if not treated immediately.
Not all aneurysms will rupture. Around 6 million
people in the United States have aneurysms that haven’t ruptured,
according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of
all aneurysms never rupture in a person's lifetime.
Only about 30,000 of people in the United States
experience ruptured aneurysms each year. Forty percent of ruptured aneurysms
does a brain aneurysm look like?
Brain aneurysms can take several forms. Stanford
Health Care states that almost 90
percent are saccular, or “berry,” aneurysms. This type forms a sac
outside the artery that looks like a berry.
A fusiform aneurysm is an uncommon
aneurysm that causes the artery to bulge all the way around.
A dissecting aneurysm is a tear in one of an
artery’s several linings. It can leak blood into the other layers and balloon
out or block the artery.
What causes a brain aneurysm?
Some events encourage the development or rupture
of an aneurysm in the brain. A study in
the American Heart Association's journal Stroke concluded that the
following factors may trigger the rupture of an existing aneurysm:
- excessive exercise
- coffee or soda consumption
- straining during bowel movements
- intense anger
- sexual intercourse
Some aneurysms develop over the course of a
person’s lifetime, some are inherited, and some result from brain
Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney
disease (ADPKD) is an inherited condition that affects kidney function. It
also produces cobweb-like, fluid-filled pockets (cysts) in brain tissue. The
condition raises blood pressure, which weakens blood vessels in the brain and
elsewhere in the body.
Marfan’s syndrome is also inherited and
affects the genes that control the formation of the body’s connective tissue.
Damage to the structure of the arteries creates weaknesses that can lead to
A traumatic brain injury can tear the tissue and
create what’s known as a dissecting aneurysm. A serious infection in the body
can lead to an aneurysm if the infection damages the arteries. Smoking and
chronic high blood pressure are also sources of many brain aneurysms.
at risk for a brain aneurysm?
Brain aneurysms can affect anyone, but people with
atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are at high risk of forming brain
The Brain Aneurysm Foundation also states that
brain aneurysms are most common in people between 35 and 60 years old. Women
are more likely to get aneurysms than men due to low estrogen levels after
menopause. If aneurysms run in your immediate family, your risk of having one
Other risk factors for brain aneurysms include:
- older age
- drug abuse, especially cocaine
- alcohol abuse
- congenital problems that affect the arterial walls, such as
- head injury
- cerebral arteriovenous malformation
- congenital narrowing of the aorta known as coarctation
are the symptoms of a brain aneurysm?
Aneurysms are unpredictable and may not show any
symptoms until they rupture. Large or ruptured aneurysms will usually show
definite symptoms and require emergency medical care.
The symptoms and warning signs of an aneurysm vary
based on whether it’s ruptured or not.
Symptoms of an unruptured aneurysm include:
- headache or pain behind or above the eye, which can be mild or
- blurred or double vision
- visual deficits
See your doctor as
soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms.
Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include:
- sudden, severe headache, “the worst headache of my life”
- neck stiffness
- blurry or double vision
- sensitivity to light
- drooping eyelid
- trouble speaking or a
change in awareness and mental state
- trouble walking or
- nausea or vomiting
- seizure (convulsion)
- loss of consciousness
If you have an aneurysm that is “leaking,” you may only
experience a sudden, severe headache.
Seek emergency medical
attention right away if you experience one or more of these symptoms.
is a brain aneurysm diagnosed?
an aneurysm ruptures, it may be difficult to diagnose the condition. Doctors
can use certain tests to locate aneurysms in people who have family histories
of the condition, risk factors, and inherited, aneurysm-related health issues.
CT and MRI scans take pictures of the brain
tissues and arteries. CT scans take several X-rays and then provide a 3-D image
of your brain on a computer. MRI scans work by scanning your brain with radio
waves and magnetic fields and creating images.
CT scans are better at revealing bleeding that may
already be present. A spinal tap, where a doctor draws fluid from the
spine, can check for signs of bleeding in the brain. Cerebral
angiograms can also check for bleeding and any abnormalities in the brain
Treatment for aneurysm can vary based on the size,
location, and severity of the aneurysm as well as whether or not it has
ruptured or is leaking. Pain medication can soothe headaches and eye pain.
If the aneurysm is accessible, surgery can repair
or cut off blood flow to the aneurysm. This can prevent further growth or a
rupture. Some surgeries include:
- surgical clipping, in which an aneurysm is closed using a metal
- endovascular coiling, in which a catheter is inserted through an
artery to your aneurysm and blood flow is blocked, which ultimately closes off
Several lifestyle changes can help you manage
- quitting smoking
- eating a diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and
low-fat dairy products
- exercising regularly, but not excessively
- managing high blood pressure or high cholesterol
are complications of brain aneurysms?
Pressure from the
blood leaking into your brain from a ruptured aneurysm can build up quickly. If
the pressure becomes too high, you can lose consciousness. Death can occur in
After a brain
aneurysm ruptures, it can rupture again at any time, even after treatment. Your
brain’s blood vessels can also become narrow without warning (vasospasms) in
response to elevated pressure around the brain.
in which cerebrospinal fluid circulation is impaired
or low sodium levels due to the brain injury
is the outlook for someone with a brain aneurysm?
Be vigilant in monitoring an aneurysm for signs of
rupture. If you get immediate treatment for a rupture, your survival and
recovery rates are much higher than if you don’t seek emergency medical care
Recovery in the hospital from surgery on an
unruptured aneurysm is usually quick. For surgeries involving a ruptured
aneurysm, maximum recovery can take weeks to months, and it’s possible you may
never fully recover, depending on the severity of the damage.
Be alert about warning signs. If you have any risk
factors, see your doctor immediately for an examination. Unruptured brain
aneurysms are serious and need to be addressed as soon as possible once they
are discovered. Leaking or ruptured brain aneurysms are a medical emergency and
require critical care management from experienced physicians in order to ensure
the best possible outcome.