A brain aneurysm (sometimes called a cerebral aneurysm) is a weakened, bulging area in an artery that provides the brain with oxygen-rich blood. Most commonly, brain aneurysms are located at the base of the brain, but they can occur elsewhere as well. If this weakened area bursts or ruptures, it releases blood into the skull, causing a stroke and sometimes death. Brain aneurysms are more common among people with a family or personal history of aneurysms, people with atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries), those who smoke and those who have high blood pressure (hypertension). Brain aneurysms are also more common in older people and among women.
In most cases, brain aneurysms cause no symptoms and are only “discovered” during tests for other issues or when an aneurysm ruptures. In a few cases, an aneurysm may press on another area of the brain, causing severe headaches, neck pain, problems with speech or vision problems, depending on the area of the brain that’s affected. Fainting, sensitivity to light and nausea can also occur, and sometimes these symptoms can develop rapidly.
If a brain aneurysm is suspected, a CT scan or angiogram may be ordered to obtain pictures of the brain and the vessels. Angiograms use long, thin tubes called catheters to inject dye into an area of the brain. The dye makes it easier for a special x-ray machine to capture detailed images that can show an aneurysm more clearly. MRI may also be used in some patients.
That depends on the size and location of an aneurysm. Some large aneurysms can be repaired surgically using special techniques to remove the affected artery and replace it with a graft. Other times, a special surgical clip can be used to stop the flow of blood in that portion of the artery. Some aneurysms can be treated with medication and careful monitoring to assess changes in the artery that indicate a need for more aggressive treatment.