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Brain Aneurysm

What Is a Brain Aneurysm?

A brain aneurysm occurs when an artery or vein in the brain bulges or balloons. While some brain aneurysms pose no immediate threat, others may begin to leak or rupture. When this occurs, bleeding in the brain takes place. Without immediate medical attention, this bleeding leads to death.

Aneurysms that don’t rupture typically don’t cause any observable health symptoms. As a result, they are frequently undiagnosed unless caught when performing diagnostic tests for other health conditions. Though asymptomatic until rupture, there are risk factors for brain aneurysms, including:

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Getting older

  • High blood pressure

  • Illegal drug abuse, especially of cocaine

  • Suffering congenital conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease or cerebral arteriovenous malformation

Symptoms

When brain aneurysms grow large, they can press on nerves and occasionally cause pre-rupture symptoms, including the following:

  • Pains — A headache may indicate a future rupture that will come within a few days or weeks. There may also be pain in the neck, above or behind the eye, in the back of the head, or in the temple.

  • Eye issues — Problems seeing, difficulty moving eyes normally or having a single eye with a dilated pupil may indicate a brain aneurysm.

  • Seizures — An electrical disturbance in the brain causes involuntary movements or behavior or loss of consciousness.

In cases when the brain aneurysm ruptures or leaks, symptoms may include:

  • Headache — Pain more severe than that experienced with any previous headache. It may be combined with light sensitivity.

  • Sickness — Nausea, neck stiffness, lethargy and vomiting commonly accompany a brain aneurysm rupture.

Treatment Options

Aneurysms that haven’t leaked or ruptured may be observed over time to determine if treatment is necessary. Untreated brain aneurysm ruptures lead to confusion, unconsciousness, coma and seizures. Ultimately, ruptured aneurysms lead to death, which is why immediate treatment is critical. Available treatments are:

  • Surgical clipping — The aneurysm is accessed through a small incision on the head and the surgeon places a small metal clip on the aneurysm base to prevent future blood flow to the aneurysm. The procedure generally takes three to five hours.

  • Embolization — A faster procedure than clipping, embolization involves a thin tube being fed to the aneurysm through an incision in the groin. Thin wire is fed through the tube. Once it reaches the aneurysm, the wire coils. In this position, the wire stops blood flow to the aneurysm.

  • Flow diversion — Also less invasive than surgical clipping, flow diversion is useful for brain aneurysms that haven’t ruptured and largely mimics embolization. However, with flow diversion, the device used to stop blood flow is placed outside in the artery outside of the aneurysm instead of inside the aneurysm.

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