A brain aneurysm is a weak area on the wall of a blood vessel in the brain. Over time, this weakened area bulges or balloons out. Aneurysms can occasionally rupture and cause bleeding in or around the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). Most brain aneurysms, however, don’t rupture, create health problems or cause symptoms. They are often detected during tests for other conditions.
With early detection through MRIs, our specialists can find and apply lifesaving surgical or endovascular strategies to treat an aneurysm before it bursts. If a leak or rupture does occur, it is a life-threatening condition and requires prompt medical treatment.
Symptoms of Brain Aneurysms
Most unruptured aneurysms do not cause any noticeable symptoms. Occasionally, people with an unruptured brain aneurysm will experience some or all of these symptoms:
- Peripheral vision deficits
- Thinking or processing problems
- Speech complications
- Perceptual problems
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Decreased concentration
- Short-term memory difficulty
In addition, a growing aneurysm might push against nerves, blood vessels or other structures and cause headaches, double vision or pain around the eyes. Symptomatic aneurysms are likely to be unstable and most require treatment to avoid leakage or rupture, as well as resolve symptoms.
Symptoms of a Ruptured Aneurysm
If the aneurysm ruptures and bleeds, people often suffer from a sudden and severe ("thunderclap") headache, one they might call the “worst they ever experienced,” as well as neck pain and stiffness. They might also develop typical stroke symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm also include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Drooping eyelid
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- Stiff neck
- Sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Preventing the Rupture of a Brain Aneurysm
A brain aneurysm cannot be prevented. However, an unruptured brain aneurysm can sometimes be treated to prevent rupture. You can lower your risk factors for aneurysm by:
- Quitting smoking
- Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet to reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque is a fatty buildup that narrows the arteries.
- Control high blood pressure (eating a low-salt diet helps)
- Control high cholesterol
- Exercise regularly
Diagnosing Aneurysms at Sentara
The challenge is to catch an aneurysm before it bursts. The first step begins with neurological testing to determine a precise diagnosis. Because brain aneurysm symptoms can also be associated with other conditions, our specialists use highly advanced diagnostic neuroradiology to identify both ruptured and unruptured brain aneurysms.
Your doctor may combine a CT scan with a contrast dye injected into a vein in order to determine the exact location, size and shape of a brain aneurysm.
Aneurysm Treatment at Sentara
Treatment depends on the size and location of the aneurysm and whether it has ruptured. A small brain aneurysm that hasn't burst may not need treatment. A large aneurysm may press against brain tissue, causing a severe headache or impaired vision, and is likely to burst. Your team of doctors will use advanced, non-invasive electronic imaging to determine if a brain aneurysm has ruptured. If it has, there are two common treatment options.
Surgical clipping: A procedure to close off an aneurysm. A tiny metal clip is placed on the neck of the aneurysm to stop blood flow to it.
Minimally invasive endovascular coiling: One of the most frequently used treatments for cerebral aneurysms. The surgeon will insert a catheter into an artery and thread it through your body to the aneurysm. A soft platinum wire is then pushed through the catheter and into the aneurysm, causing the aneurysm to become clotted, preventing rupture.