An Overview of Brain Aneurysms
A brain aneurysm occurs in the cerebral artery; it is characterized by an abnormal bulge which occurs in one of the arteries within the brain. Approximately one out of every 15 people will have a brain aneurysm some time in their lives in the United States; anyone can develop an aneurysm in the brain, but they are more likely to occur in people who are 35 and older. An individual may have a brain aneurysm without knowing it; an aneurysm is usually found when the patient visits his/her doctor when symptoms occur.
What causes brain aneurysms?
There are a number of things that can possibly cause brain aneurysms; for instance heredity may be a factor. If you have a family history, you may be at risk, yourself, for a brain aneurysm. Other factors that could cause brain aneurysms are:
Ethnicity - People of African American heritage are twice as likely to develop a brain aneurysm as Caucasians.
Gender – Women are two times more likely to develop a brain aneurysm than men.
Hypertension – Individuals having high blood pressure are more likely to develop a brain aneurysm. An aneurysm is more likely to rupture in a person who has high blood pressure.
Cigarette smoking – Cigarette smoking is a primary cause of high blood pressure, which can in turn cause an aneurysm. People with brain aneurysms who smoke are at risk for the aneurysm to rupture.
Previous history – Individuals with a previous history of a brain aneurysm are more likely to develop another one.
What are the symptoms of a brain aneurysm?
Most people who have brain aneurysms may not even know they have one, because unless an aneurysm is applying pressure on the brain, it may not cause any symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, the individual may experience sudden, severe headaches, aches and pains in the neck and blurred vision. Other symptoms of a brain aneurysm may be nausea, vomiting and seizures.
What complications could occur from a brain aneurysm?
The most severe complication associated with brain aneurysms is rupturing. When a brain aneurysm ruptures, bleeding occurs in the subarachnoid space, which is called subarachnoid hemorrhage. If a brain aneurysm ruptures, it can cause a stroke to occur, which is called a hemorrhagic stroke which could cause permanent brain damage or even death.
How is a brain aneurysm diagnosed?
Oftentimes, a brain aneurysm is discovered through diagnostic workups for other possible conditions. It often happens this way, because brain aneurysms don’t always produce any symptoms.
Tests that will confirm or rule out a brain aneurysm are:
CT scan – A computed tomography scan can detect bleeding within the brain.
CTA scan – A computed tomography angiogram scan is a special type of CT scan which scans the blood vessels in the brain. The patient is injected with a contrast material into the blood vessels, so that the scan will produce a clear image of the vasculature of the brain.
Cerebral angiogram – A cerebral angiogram is a special kind of X-ray. The patient has a catheter inserted into the groin area or the inside of the elbow. The catheter is advanced through the artery in the groin or arm until it reaches the brain. Once in place, a contrast medium is introduced into the artery in the brain. This test allows the cerebral artery and the surrounding areas to be visualized. If there is an aneurysm present, the radiologist will be able to identify its size and location.
MRA – A magnetic resonance angiography is a special kind of magnetic resonance imaging which is similar to a CT scan, except it isn’t an X-ray. An MRA uses radio wave energy and a magnetic field to create a clear image of the blood vessels within the brain.
Brain aneurysms are extremely serious. They can rupture without warning. If you start having symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and vomiting, don’t ignore these symptoms. The symptoms may not be related to a brain aneurysm, but they could be. You could have a migraine headache, or you could have something far more dangerous. Treatment options for brain aneurysms will be discussed in a future article.
Photo courtesy of Javame from Flickr.com.
Author’s note: A nurse friend, I worked with had a brain aneurysm and never knew it. The last time I ever saw her, I came to her floor to help her, because she had a terrible headache. I suggested she call her husband and go to the ER, and I would cover her floor. Her husband took her to the ER and that is where she died. She was just 23 years old. She had severe headaches and nausea. She thought her symptoms were related to premenstrual syndrome. She said she was due to start her period any day.