Brain aneurysms often come without warning, preceded by few or no symptoms. Yet in just a split second, an aneurysm can change your life. When most people think of a brain aneurysm, they're actually thinking of the sudden effects of a ruptured brain aneurysm. What you might not realize is that many people live with a brain aneurysm without ever knowing it, and without experiencing a single symptom. Here's what you need to know about this potentially life threatening brain issue.
A brain aneurysm is a bulging malformation in one of the brain's blood vessels. It can look a lot like a balloon or a berry. Most brain aneurysms produce no symptoms, and a brain aneurysm does not necessarily indicate an underlying health problem. Some of the most common causes of brain aneurysms include:
Simply having a brain aneurysm does not necessarily mean your brain will be harmed. The problem with brain aneurysms is that they can leak or rupture. A bleeding brain aneurysm can cause extensive brain damage, pressure in the skull, and other brain injuries. The symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm vary greatly depending upon the location of the aneurysm and the severity of the bleed, but ruptured brain aneurysms can be fatal.
Many brain aneurysms are completely asymptomatic. Most people with a brain aneurysm only learn about the aneurysm when it ruptures, or incidental to a brain scan for another condition. However, some people with aneurysms experience a handful of warning signs. The extent and severity of symptoms depends on a number of idiosyncratic factors, including aneurysm location and size.
Some symptoms to discuss with your doctor include:
These symptoms can also indicate a wide variety of other issues, so it's important to talk to your doctor rather than self-diagnosing with an aneurysm. The only conclusive way to determine whether or not an aneurysm is present is with brain imaging scans. Your doctor will determine the most appropriate scan for your symptoms.
A ruptured or leaking brain aneurysm is a medical emergency that demands immediate treatment in an emergency room. If you experience a sudden, intense headache—particularly if you have no previous history of headaches, or the headache differs markedly from your usual headache pattern—call your doctor immediately. Some common symptoms associated with a ruptured aneurysm include:
Treatment for brain aneurysms depends on whether the aneurysm is ruptured or unruptured.
Treatment may vary depending upon the specifics of your case, but the most common surgical treatments for ruptured and leaking brain aneurysms are:
Surgery for unruptured brain aneurysms is risky, and only 1-2% of brain aneurysms rupture each year. If your aneurysm is small—less than 10mm—your doctor might advise watchful waiting rather than aggressive treatment. If your doctor does opt to perform surgery, surgeries for unruptured brain aneurysms are the same as those for ruptured brain aneurysms.
An unruptured brain aneurysm does not typically require any specialized medical care, though your doctor might recommend lifestyle remedies, such as quitting smoking and eating a balanced diet, to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of experiencing future aneurysms.
If an aneurysm has ruptured, you may require long-term care, particularly if the ruptured aneurysm has damaged surrounding brain tissue. After stabilizing you, your doctor may recommend a number of treatment options, including: