What is a brain aneurysm?

Published: Friday, December 22, 2023
Neurology, Vascular Neurology

You might have come across stories of individuals enduring a brain aneurysm. The experience of a ruptured aneurysm can be a sudden, life-threatening crisis, often making headlines and causing concern. Despite being aware of brain aneurysms, it’s entirely normal not to fully grasp the complexities of what happens during an aneurysm rupture. Let’s explore some common questions about this condition, as it’s more prevalent than many people realize.

Q: What causes a brain aneurysm?

A: An aneurysm develops when an artery develops a weakened or thin area, causing it to balloon or protrude. This weakening can happen in any artery throughout the body; when it occurs in a brain artery, it’s termed a brain aneurysm or cerebral aneurysm.

Arteries can weaken due to various reasons, with aging being one factor. Additionally, high blood pressure exerts excessive force on blood vessel walls, while smoking can harm these walls, both contributing to the risk of a brain aneurysm.

Significant weakening of the artery wall allows it to stretch under pressure, resulting in an outward bulging that often fills with blood. This bulge assumes a distinctive shape, signaling the formation of an aneurysm.

Q: What are the symptoms of a brain aneurysm?

A: Before delving into the symptoms of a brain aneurysm, let’s explore some general facts about this condition. While a brain aneurysm might seem like an immediate emergency needing urgent attention, in most instances, the aneurysm itself isn’t an emergency.

As previously explained, an aneurysm manifests as a bulge in the weakened wall of an artery. Small aneurysms, even those located within the brain, might not exhibit noticeable symptoms and might not pose any problems throughout a person’s lifetime.

However, aneurysms become concerning when they grow larger or when they rupture. A ruptured brain aneurysm initiates the emergency scenario you might envision. This rupture leads to a hemorrhage, with blood spilling around or into the surrounding brain tissue, creating a critical situation such as brain damage or a hemorrhagic stroke.

According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, approximately 6.7 million Americans have an unruptured brain aneurysm, translating to about one in 50 individuals. Around 30,000 Americans encounter a ruptured brain aneurysm each year.

Smaller, unruptured aneurysms are commonly detected during imaging scans conducted for other health concerns. Larger, unruptured aneurysms might exert pressure on parts of the brain, like cranial nerves, leading to symptoms such as pain above and behind the eye or alterations in vision.

Once a brain aneurysm ruptures, the symptoms become life-threatening. Individuals who’ve experienced a brain aneurysm often describe the associated pain as the “worst headache” they’ve ever felt.

Moreover, a ruptured cerebral aneurysm might induce double vision, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, seizures and even loss of consciousness. Any occurrence of these symptoms warrants immediate attention and should prompt a call to 911 for urgent medical assistance.

Q: How is a brain aneurysm treated?

A: The approach to treating a brain aneurysm depends on its size and whether there’s a risk of rupture or if it has already ruptured.

For individuals with a small, unruptured aneurysm deemed at low risk of rupture, no treatment may be necessary beyond routine monitoring with imaging scans. Anyone diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, irrespective of its size, will be advised to implement lifestyle changes aimed at reducing the risk of rupture. This typically involves managing underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure and discontinuing smoking and the use of stimulant drugs.

In the case of a ruptured brain aneurysm, emergency surgery is the primary treatment. This may involve two primary procedures:

  • Endovascular coiling: In this procedure, a catheter is inserted into an artery and guided to the brain aneurysm. Through the catheter, small coils of platinum wire are released into the aneurysm, effectively filling it in a manner similar to repairing a pothole on a street.
  • Microvascular clipping: This surgical procedure involves opening the brain, making it more invasive. The surgeon identifies the blood vessels supplying the aneurysm and places a clip around the neck of the aneurysm to halt its blood supply. Despite being more invasive, this method can have long-lasting effects.

Both treatments aim to prevent further rupture and reduce the risk of complications associated with a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Q: What’s the prognosis after a brain aneurysm?

A: The outlook for an individual with a brain aneurysm hinges on whether the aneurysm remains undisturbed or if it ruptures, turning into an immediate health crisis that demands urgent intervention.

Sadly, many ruptured brain aneurysms lead to fatalities, with roughly 15% of those affected succumbing before reaching the hospital. Survivors often require intensive rehabilitation to regain lost abilities following the rupture.

In contrast, the prognosis for small or unruptured aneurysms is generally favorable. Regular monitoring of the aneurysm’s status and size allows neurointerventionalists to offer recommendations for management, which may involve lifestyle modifications, medications, and other treatments.

Due to the potentially life-threatening or life-altering consequences of a ruptured brain aneurysm, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial upon experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned earlier. Particularly, a sudden, severe headache—especially when accompanied by other symptoms—should prompt a medical evaluation as it could indicate a leak or rupture of a brain aneurysm.

This urgency heightens for individuals at an elevated risk of cerebral aneurysms due to personal medical history or familial occurrence. Understanding your risk factors is vital, and it’s essential not to ignore potential warning signs when it concerns your health.

Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Neurointerventional Surgery treats a wide range of neurological conditions, including brain aneurysm. Call 770-219-6520 or click here for more information.