An aneurysm is a bulge in an artery. It’s often described as looking like a berry hanging on a stem or like a balloon. It can occur when the artery walls, which are usually thick and strong, become thin and weak. Aneurysms can take place just about anywhere in the body, including the brain. While some people may not even realize they have an aneurysm, others can experience unpleasant and even life-threatening symptoms.
The Brain Aneurysm & Stroke Program at the ANS Neurovascular Center specializes in diagnosing and treating brain aneurysms. If you or someone you know has a brain aneurysm, here’s an overview of what you might need to know.
Brain aneurysms are more likely to occur in people over the age of 40. Additionally, women are more likely to develop them than men. There’s also an increased risk if you have high blood pressure, use drugs or smoke cigarettes. Brain aneurysms can also be caused by an injury or trauma to the head, infections, birth abnormalities, cancer or tumors in the head and neck region and some diseases affecting the blood or blood vessels. People with a family history of aneurysms are more prone, as well.
Brain Aneurysm Symptoms
As mentioned, sometimes people who have an aneurysm don’t experience any symptoms. Others may have headaches, dilated pupils, blurred vision, drooping eyelid, weakness on one side of the face, trouble speaking and/or pain above or behind the eye.
However, if the aneurysm ruptures, that means the balloon is getting bigger, has started leaking or has even popped altogether. This is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms will intensify suddenly. The person may develop sensitivity to light, lose their balance, have a seizure or even lose consciousness.
Doctors can diagnose a brain aneurysm by collecting information about the symptoms and running diagnostic tests, such as an MRI, CT scan or angiogram.
Successful treatment is available for brain aneurysms. What it entails will depend on whether or not the aneurysm has ruptured yet. If it hasn’t ruptured, medication can help lower blood pressure and relax blood vessels in order to prevent it from rupturing. Doctors may also suggest surgery to help strengthen and reinforce the artery walls.
If the aneurysm has ruptured, the most important thing is to stop and control the bleeding. A ruptured aneurysm can cause complications like restricted blood flow, permanent brain damage, hydrocephalus and coma. That’s why it’s so important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Treatment options include:
- Surgical Clipping: This is an open brain surgery where doctors cut off blood supply to the aneurysm.
- Endovascular Coiling: Doctors use a catheter to access the brain and release tiny platinum wire coils to reduce the flow of blood to the aneurysm.
- Flow Diversion: Blood flow can also be reduced by placing a small stent, which is a flexible mesh tube, in the artery.
Sometimes aneurysms can start bleeding again after treatment and cause more damage. With experienced doctors watching and monitoring the patient’s condition, re-bleeding can be prevented and controlled.