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  • Michele T

Brain Aneurysm's - What you should know

  • An estimated 6 million, or 1 in 50 people, in the United States have an unruptured brain aneurysm.

  • Every year, about 30,000 people in the United States suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm. There is a brain aneurysm rupturing every 18 minutes.

  • Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases. Of people who survive the rupture, approximately 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit.

  • There are almost 500,000 deaths worldwide each year caused by brain aneurysms, and half the victims are younger than 50.

So, what exactly IS a brain aneurysm?

A brain or cerebral aneurysm is a weak area in a blood vessel that is often described as a “ballooning” or bulging of the blood vessel. It is believed that brain aneurysms form and grow because blood flowing through the blood vessel puts pressure on a weak area of the vessel wall. Aneurysms often enlarge slowly and become weaker as they grow, just as a balloon becomes weaker as it stretches. When the aneurysm breaks or ruptures, this is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.

What might cause a brain aneurysm?

Brain aneurysms generally develop overtime and develop without you knowing you have one. Occasionally, severe head trauma or infection may lead to the development of an aneurysm. Thankfully, two of the most significant risk factors can be controlled: cigarette smoking and high blood pressure (also known as hypertension)

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) - it's important to be aware that some medications can raise blood pressure

  • Strong family history of brain aneurysms (familial aneurysms)

  • Age (over 40)

  • Gender: women have an increased risk of aneurysms

  • Race: people of color have an increased risk of ruptured aneurysms

  • Other disorders: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, Marfan syndrome, and fibromuscular dysplasia

  • Presence of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). A particular type of vascular malformation of the brain. An abnormal collection or tangle of arteries and veins located within the substance of the brain in which a maldevelopment of capillaries (which normally connect the arteries and veins) allows a high flow short cut through the brain.

  • Congenital abnormality in the artery (a thick-walled blood vessel carrying blood flow from the heart to any organ of the body, including the brain)

  • Drug use, particularly cocaine

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Infection

  • Severe head trauma

Warning signs/symptoms

Most often a ruptured brain aneurysm occurs in the space between the brain and the thin tissues covering the brain. This is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. This type of ruptured aneurysm can cause sudden symptoms. It is of vital importance that if you experience any of the below signs, especially the first two which are the most common, you call 911 immediately. With a ruptured brain aneurysm every second counts.

  • Sudden and severe headache, often described as “the worst headache of my life

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Stiff neck

  • Blurred or double vision

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Seizure

  • Drooping eyelid

  • A dilated pupil

  • Pain above and behind the eye

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Confusion

  • Weakness and/or numbness

The Good News

Brain aneurysms are common but they are usually not life threatening, especially if they are small. If you do have a family history or one of the other disorders mentioned above you may want to speak to your doctor about having an MRI scan. That one scan might change your life.


The Mayo Clinic

The American Stroke Association

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