An aneurysm is the formation of a small sac of blood within the walls of an artery. One of the most common places it is most likely to develop is in the arteries of the brain. This condition can be considered life threatening especially if it leaks or ruptures. While this condition is hereditary, there are other factors that can influence the formation of these bulges in the arteries. Trauma, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood flow can contribute to the weakening of the arteries and the growth of these abnormalities.
Most of the time, this condition goes undetected because there are no symptoms to signal that a small sac has formed in the artery. People can live their entire lives normally without knowing that they have developed a potentially dangerous abnormality in their arteries. If the sac does rupture or leak, a person can feel the warning signs in the form of a sudden and intense headache which is accompanied by any of the following: nausea, vomiting, double vision, stiff neck and sensitivity to light. In serious cases, a person can experience seizures, feel disoriented and confused, have vision problems, and lose consciousness. If you or anyone you know has experienced these symptoms, call a doctor immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.
How is a brain aneurysm diagnosed?
A ruptured aneurysm leads to a subarachnoid hemorrhage which can cause brain damage or even death if undetected. Being asymptomatic, it’s almost impossible to diagnose the swelling of the arteries in the brain until it’s too late and the blood has leaked or the sac has ruptured. There are a lucky few, however, who have sought medical attention for something unrelated and was diagnosed with this condition after going through a CT scan. Those who are not so lucky tend to find out only after experiencing a sudden headache that can be described as the worst headache they’ve had in their life along with a couple of other symptoms. They seek medical attention and if their doctor has a reason to suspect a ruptured artery, then a CT or an MRI scan is ordered. If the CT scan and MRI doesn’t reveal anything, but a rupture still hasn’t been ruled out, a patient can be subjected to a test called cerebral angiogram. This procedure involves inserting a catheter through an artery from the hip and up to the blood vessels in the brain. A dye is injected to be viewed through a fluoroscope. While this gives a more accurate diagnosis, doctors try to avoid using it unless it’s absolutely necessary because of its invasive nature.
The only way to treat an aneurysm or a related aneurysm headache, whether it is intact or ruptured, is through some form of brain surgery. There are two ways neurosurgeons may go about treating the problem. The first one is called Clipping. This is where the surgeon makes an opening in a person’s skull in order to reach the affected artery. A clip is placed to prevent blood from flowing to the sac. Because of technological advances, surgeons no longer have to make big incisions or drill holes in the skull. They can now perform this surgery in smaller areas above the eyebrow which greatly minimizes the risks that often come with brain surgery.
The second technique used to treat the swollen sacs in the brain’s arteries is called Coiling. It is done the same way as a cranial angiogram, except that coils are inserted into the artery and packed into the affected area up to the opening of the sac. Same with clipping, the coil prevents blood flow from entering the sac. These procedures are effective for both intact and ruptured sacs. The type of procedure to use on a patient would be determined by the doctor based on the patient’s medical history and other factors that may increase or decrease the risk of each type of procedure.
A subarachnoid hemorrhage can be deadly which is why it is important to seek medical attention immediately when experiencing the signs and symptoms of an enlarged or ruptured aneurysm.
If you’re experiencing any type of headache pain, schedule an appointment with one of our headache specialists immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.