What is a brain aneurysm?
A brain (cerebral) aneurysm is a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. In most cases, a brain aneurysm causes no symptoms and goes unnoticed. In rare cases, the brain aneurysm ruptures, releasing blood into the skull and causing a stroke.
When a brain aneurysm ruptures, the result is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Depending on the severity of the hemorrhage, brain damage or death may result.
The most common location for brain aneurysms is in the network of blood vessels at the base of the brain called the circle of Willis.
What causes a brain aneurysm?
A person may inherit the tendency to form aneurysms, or aneurysms may develop because of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and aging. Some risk factors that can lead to brain aneurysms can be controlled, and others can't. The following risk factors may increase your risk of developing an aneurysm or, if you already have an aneurysm, may increase your risk of it rupturing:
What are the symptoms?
Most brain aneurysms cause no symptoms and may only be discovered during tests for another, usually unrelated, condition. In other cases, an unruptured aneurysm will cause problems by pressing on areas in the brain. When this happens, the person may suffer from severe headaches, blurred vision, changes in speech, and neck pain, depending on what areas of the brain are affected and how bad the aneurysm is.
Symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm often come on suddenly. If you have any of the following symptoms or notice them in someone you know, call
How is a brain aneurysm diagnosed?
Because unruptured brain aneurysms often do not cause any symptoms, many are discovered in people who are being treated for a different condition.
If your doctor believes that you have a brain aneurysm, you may have the following tests:
How is it treated?
Your doctor will consider several factors before deciding the best treatment for you. Things that will determine the type of treatment you receive include your age, size of the aneurysm, any additional risk factors, and your overall health.
Because the risk of a small (less than 10 mm) aneurysm rupturing is low and surgery for a brain aneurysm is often risky, your doctor may want to continue to observe your condition rather than perform surgery. If your aneurysm is large or causing pain or other symptoms, though, or if you have had a previous ruptured aneurysm, your doctor may recommend surgery.
The following surgeries are used to treat both ruptured and unruptured brain aneurysms:
Some aneurysms bulge in such a way that the aneurysm has to be cut out and the ends of the blood vessel stitched together, but this is very rare. Sometimes the artery is not long enough to stitch together, and a piece of another artery has to be used.
Aneurysms that have bled are very serious and in many cases lead to death or disability. Management includes hospitalization, intensive care to relieve pressure in the brain and maintain breathing and vital functions (such as blood pressure), and treatment to prevent rebleeding.
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