All About Brain Aneurysms
A brain aneurysm, also called a cerebral aneurysm, is a bulge or ballooning that forms in the brain's blood vessels due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessels. As the blood flows through the weakened blood vessel, its pressure leads to bulging outwards of a small area, making it look like a balloon. Unless the bulging blood vessels rupture and leak blood, they often exhibit no symptoms.
However, if the aneurysm bursts open, it can be life-threatening hence require emergency medical attention. That's because ruptured aneurysms lead to bleeding in the brain, causing a serious condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage which can be fatal since it often leads to traumatic brain injuries and even death.
Symptoms of Unruptured Brain Aneurysms
Though unruptured brain aneurysms rarely bring about symptoms unless they burst open, intense headaches are the most common signs.
Other symptoms include:
- Visual impairment such as low vision, double vision, or loss of vision
- Nausea & vomiting
- Tingling or numbness on the face and head
- Enlarged pupil
- Pain behind and above the eyes
- Concentration difficulty
- Stiff neck
- Drooping eyelid
- Loss of consOther symptoms include:ciousness
Symptoms of Ruptured Brain Aneurysms
A ruptured aneurysm is an emergency condition characterized by a sudden agonizing headache results in blinding pain, often described as a thunderclap headache.
People experiencing this headache describe it as the worst pain ever experienced before.
Other symptoms include:
- Heart attack
- Drowsiness or coma
- Mental confusion
- Neck pain
- Body weakness on one side or one of the limbs
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty speaking
Brain Aneurysm Diagnosis
Clinicians can carry out several imaging tests and scans to determine the presence or absence of brain aneurysms. The scans and tests aim to establish cerebral aneurysms' location, shape, and size.
The tests include:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI). Uses magnetic force and radio waves to display detailed images of the brain's blood vessels.
- Computer Tomography (CT). Used to create and display images of the brain.
- Computed tomography angiography. Commonly used and considered as the most authentic method to diagnose brain aneurysms. It shows the weak areas of the blood vessels and pinpoints aneurysms.
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) test. A sample of CSF checks if it contains blood, which may be a sign of a ruptured brain aneurysm.
Causes of Brain Aneurysms
Medical studies and researchers haven't discovered the main causes of brain aneurysms. The reasons why they develop are unknown, but that doesn't negate their serious consequences.
A general increase in blood pressure is dangerous as it pushes hard on the blood vessel walls and weakens them. High blood pressure could result from anger outbursts, continued stress, and heavy or vigorous physical activities.
While high blood pressure (hypertension) and cigarette smoking are the major factors contributing to the risk of developing brain aneurysms, other factors include:
- Older age
- Drug abuse, especially cocaine and amphetamines
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Head trauma or injury
- Cancer or head tumors
- Family history of brain aneurysms
- Abnormalities at birth such as Cerebral arteriovenous malformation and an abnormally narrow aorta
How to Prevent Brain Aneurysms
The most effective way to prevent or reduce the risks of brain aneurysms is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The following can help:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating balanced diet
- Keeping your blood pressure in check with medications and lifestyle adjustments
- Having moderate exercises with no excessive heavy liftings
- Reducing high-fat diets
- Controlling alcohol uptake
How are Brain Aneurysms Treated?
Though most brain aneurysms do not rupture, treatment is usually recommended if physicians estimate they have a high chance of rupturing in the future. Treatment usually depends on the size of the aneurysm, its position, vascular anatomy, the age of the affected person, family history, and any other threatening medical condition present.
If the risk of rupture is low, the healthcare provider may recommend regular checkups to monitor it. Treatment may also include medication prescriptions to relieve blood pressure.
On the other hand, treating ruptured aneurysms (3) involves stopping blood flow towards it. The procedure may include:
- Surgical clipping (microvascular). It involves placing a metal clip on the aneurysm opening to stop its blood flow.
- Endovascular coiling. A catheter is placed to the groin or wrist then into the affected blood vessel. Next, a platinum coil is sent through it into the aneurysm to stop blood flow into the aneurysm. It's safer than surgical clipping but has a risk of an aneurysm rupturing again.
- Flow diverter surgery. The procedure is useful when treating larger aneurysms that can't be treated by surgical clipping or endovascular coiling. A stent, formed from a metal mesh, is placed inside the artery to divert blood flow away from the aneurysm.
Is it Hard to Survive a Brain Aneurysm?
As long as the brain aneurysm is unruptured, you can live your entire life peacefully with no idea that you have an aneurysm. However, some aneurysms can rupture due to various factors, leaking blood into the subarachnoid space and the brain tissue. That ends up causing a hemorrhage stroke.
A ruptured aneurysm is life-threatening, making it crucial that you get emergency medical attention. Delay in seeking emergency help increases the chances of disability or even death. The earlier you seek medical attention, the higher your chances of surviving.
Approximately 60% (2) of those with ruptured brain aneurysm survive. However, approximately 66 percent of the survivors may have permanent neurological defects. Someone with a small unruptured aneurysm may have a better prognosis than someone who suffers a ruptured aneurysm.
Does a Brain Aneurysm Shorten Your Life?
Most individuals with unruptured brain aneurysms lead normal lives throughout and may have no symptoms. But you can't say the same for a ruptured aneurysm.
When you have a ruptured brain aneurysm, your prognosis largely depends on:
- The time between the aneurysm rupture and medical attention
- Age and overall health
- The extent of bleeding or rebleeding
- Size of the aneurysm
- Existing neurological conditions
- Effective treatment and management of the aneurysm
- Location of the aneurysm
A cerebral aneurysm may leave you with permanent neurological damage, such as problems with speech and memory. Fortunately, recovery with no risk of disability is possible after treatment, taking anywhere between several weeks to months. However, periodic medical checkups are crucial to rule out any new aneurysm or re-rupture risk.
A ruptured brain aneurysm is a serious medical emergency. If you have symptoms of stroke or brain bleeding, you should call 911 immediately. It's crucial to identify and manage brain aneurysms as early as possible while observing healthy lifestyles and eating habits. Research is currently underway to know the actual causes of subarachnoid hemorrhage and lower the risk and burden of neurological diseases.
There currently exists no way to cure Alzheimer's. There are however medications that exist that can slow or ease symptoms of the disease. Research is still ongoing into the disease, and will hopefully lead to more effective treatments in the future.
Symptoms of ruptured and unruptured brain aneurysms (1), survival rate of brain aneurysms (2), Treatment of brain aneurysms (3)
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