Brain Aneurysm Overview
The brain aneurysm is a sack-like area filled with blood that balloons out from the weak spots of the wall of an artery. Aneurysms are not normally dangerous but if they rupture in the brain they will cause a hemorrhagic stroke. It was used to be thought that the brain aneurysm is a congenital condition but more recently specialists believe that aneurysms are a result of the microscopic damage to the artery walls. Damage to the artery walls is usually produced by abnormal flow at the junction points where the arteries reunite. Any factor that could cause the weakening of the blood vessels in the brain is considered risk factors for aneurysm. Among these is older age, smoking, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, family history of brain aneurysms, drug and alcohol abuse, head injuries or blood infections.
One of the most common causes of a brain aneurysm is the high blood pressure which can either cause this condition or worsen it. More rarely, aneurysms are caused by infections of the artery wall or due to trauma or tumors. Very dangerous is the drug abuse, especially cocaine. It is very likely that an individual who abuses drugs will develop inflammation and weakening of the artery walls which can possibly lead to a brain aneurysm.
Even though brain aneurysms are a common occurrence, most aneurysms remain small and undetected unless they burst and cause a stroke. However, some small aneurysms have the potential to grow gradually and as soon as they are big enough to exert pressure on the surrounding brain tissue, the patient will notice its most common symptoms. These are headaches, change in vision or dilated pupils and numbness or weakness of one side of the face. The symptoms may also suggest other diagnosis such as migraine headache, meningitis, tumor or even stroke but in any case the medical opinion should be sought immediately.
Recognizing the first symptoms of an aneurysm is important because a brain aneurysm should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Establishing an accurate diagnosis implies taking several imaging tests and a physical examination by a specialist. During the physical examination, the history of headache will be observed as well as if the patient has a stiff neck. The CT is the most commonly imaging test used for diagnosing brain aneurysms. In over 90% of the cases in which the aneurysm ruptured, the CT reveals a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If the CT did not conclude the diagnosis but the doctor suspects an aneurysm, a lumbar puncture may be performed. After the CT or lumbar puncture revealed the existence of a brain aneurysm an angiography is normally ordered to establish the exact location of the aneurysm. A MRI can be also useful in diagnosing aneurysms.
A brain aneurysm can only be treated with surgery, which implies repairing the blood vessels either by clipping or coiling.