Knowing what is a brain aneurysm and brain aneurysm symptoms can save your life. A bleeding brain aneurysm needs quick treatment to prevent brain damage.
An aneurysm is a weak area in a blood vessel. Much like a weak spot in a balloon, an aneurysm can stretch as it grows larger and larger, until it pops.
To understand what is a brain aneurysm and why it can be especially dangerous, consider what happens if a ballooning blood vessel ruptures. Blood leaks into the brain (a condition known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage), potentially causing a stroke, brain damage, and death.
Around three to five million Americans have, or will eventually develop, a brain aneurysm. The majority won’t experience brain aneurysm symptoms. However, up to three percent of people with brain aneurysms end up with bleeding into their brains, according to the American Stroke Association. And if you have one aneurysm, there’s a 15 to 20 percent chance you’ll have other aneurysms.
Although most brain aneurysms (also called cerebral aneurysms) don’t rupture, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of brain aneurysm so you’ll know when to get medical help.
Crucial brain aneurysm symptoms
Smaller aneurysms, less than half an inch in diameter, usually don’t have symptoms. But if an aneurysm enlarges, it can cause pressure on normal brain tissue and adjacent nerves, resulting in a variety of neurological symptoms. These are warning signs you may have a brain aneurysm that could be ballooning and in danger of rupturing.
If you recognize any of these brain aneurysm symptoms, the Brain Aneurysm Foundation urges having an immediate medical evaluation:
- Localized headache
- Pain above and behind an eye
- Blurred or double vision
- Weakness and numbness of an arm or leg
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty speaking
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any or all these brain aneurysm symptoms (which typically develop suddenly) — they could indicate a possible rupture and brain bleed:
- A sudden, unusually severe headache, the worst headache of your life
- Loss of consciousness or a seizure.
- Sudden blurred or double vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- A stiff neck
- Sudden pain above or behind an eye, often accompanied by difficulty seeing
- Sudden change in your mental status or memory
- Sudden difficulty walking or dizziness
- Sudden weakness and numbness in a leg or arm
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- A drooping eyelid
Signs of aneurysm danger
You should take the signs and symptoms of brain aneurysm very seriously. Although 15 to 30 percent of those with a ruptured aneurysm may have few or mild difficulties, once an aneurysm bleeds, the chance of death is 30 to 40 percent.
Even if the ruptured aneurysm is treated, the risk of moderate-to-severe brain damage from a brain bleed is 20 to 35 percent, according to the American Stroke Association. What’s more, if the aneurysm isn’t treated quickly enough, another bleed may occur from the already ruptured aneurysm.
How is a brain aneurysm diagnosed?
Most brain aneurysms go undiscovered until they rupture, or they are found by brain imaging tests doctors have ordered for other conditions, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke points out.
If symptoms of a brain aneurysm are present, or if a subarachnoid hemorrhage has already occurred, several tests are used to confirm a brain aneurysm diagnosis.
A CT scan of the head is used to produce detailed images of blood flow in brain arteries, check for brain aneurysms and see if any blood has leaked into the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses computer-generated radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to create detailed images of the brain, and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), which produces detailed images of blood vessels, are other imaging tests used to find and document the size and shape of an aneurysm and to search for bleeding in the brain.
If a ruptured aneurysm is suspected, an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (which protects the brain and spinal cord) may be used to help detect any bleeding or brain hemorrhage. In addition, an intracerebral angiogram, which uses a small amount of contrast dye to highlight structures on x-rays, may also be ordered to document a brain aneurysm.
What is a brain aneurysm treatment?
Not all brain aneurysms rupture, and very small aneurysms may simply be monitored to watch for any growth or onset of symptoms. However, if brain aneurysms are at risk of rupturing, or already have caused a brain bleed, several treatments are available. There are risks involved with each approach so age, general health, and other factors are taken into consideration to decide on the best aneurysm treatment for individual patients.
Two surgical options are used to treat brain aneurysms. Microvascular clipping involves a neurosurgeon placing a small, metal, clothespin-like clip on the neck of an aneurysm to block its blood supply and prevent future bleeding. A related treatment, occlusion, is often used when an aneurysm has damaged a blood vessel — a neurosurgeon clamps off the entire artery leading to the aneurysm
Endovascular embolization is another treatment for brain aneurysm. A doctor uses angiography to guide a small catheter through an artery, threading it to the site of the aneurysm, where tiny coils made of platinum wire are released. The coils block circulation, causing blood to clot in the aneurysm and destroy it.
Brain aneurysm causes
Doctors don’t know exactly why some aneurysms grow and rupture. However, there are certain known risk factors for the condition you can control:
- Don’t use illicit stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines — they can cause aneurysms to rupture and bleed.
- If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to get it under control. Hypertension raises the risk of a brain bleed.
- Use common sense and don’t lift anything that is too heavy for you. Heavy lifting and excessive straining can cause pressure to rise in the brain, raising the risk of an aneurysm rupture.
- Strong emotions, such as being extremely angry or chronically anxious, can raise blood pressure and increase the odds a brain aneurysm will rupture. Learn relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation and exercise regularly to lower stress.
June 28, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN