How to Determine if You or a Loved One Is at Risk for a Brain Aneurysm: A Neurosurgeon’s Advice

“Brain aneurysm”—also known as cerebral aneurysm—is a scary diagnosis. You may know someone who was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. An estimated 6.7 million Americans have an unruptured brain aneurysm—which equates to about 1 out of every 50 people. Fortunately, most patients with a brain aneurysm are unlikely to suffer from an aneurysm rupture and can simply be observed over time. However, there are some patients with an unruptured brain aneurysm that should be treated to prevent aneurysm rupture. This is best determined by a Neurosurgeon with special expertise in the treatment of brain aneurysms.

How can you know if you or a loved one is also at risk for a brain aneurysm? There are important factors to consider, including lifestyle, family history, age, gender, and other medical conditions.

What Is a Brain Aneurysm?

The best way to describe a brain aneurysm is to think of a slowly expanding balloon. Another way to picture an aneurysm is as a blister on the side of a blood vessel. The normal blood flow in the vessel also fills the aneurysm. When a brain aneurysm occurs, it first appears as a bulge on a weakened area on a blood vessel in the brain. The aneurysm can grow over time, typically over many years. As the aneurysm grows, the walls of the aneurysm can become thinner and more prone to rupture and bleeding.

In severe cases, the aneurysm will rupture, leading to sudden bleeding in the brain. This is also called a “subarachnoid hemorrhage” and is a life-threatening emergency. Many patients who have been through this experience describe it as the “worst headache of my life.” It’s an accurate depiction, given the urgency of the situation. Ruptured aneurysms require immediate medical attention to arrest the situation and stop any further bleeding.

It’s important to note that ruptured brain aneurysms are uncommon. There are approximately 30,000 Americans who experience a brain aneurysm rupture per year. In contrast, unruptured brain aneurysms affect a much larger number of people, about around 3 percent of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, those who are living with an unruptured brain aneurysm often will not have any symptoms and may not even know it exists. That’s why it’s so crucial to identify certain risk factors that could be impacting you or a loved one.

Top Risk Factors for Brain Aneurysm

While most patients with a brain aneurysm have no unusual risk factors, some individuals are more at risk for developing a brain aneurysms than are others. We look at these risk factors as modifiable versus non-modifiable. For example, brain aneurysms are more common in females as compared to males. Individuals with a family history of brain aneurysms are also more likely to develop a brain aneurysm themselves. Anyone who has a family history of brain aneurysm should be cognizant of their inherited risk, as well as those with various genetic disorders. These include:

  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Fibromuscular dysplasia
  • Moyamoya disease

Yet, there are other risk factors for a brain aneurysm that individuals can mitigate. Smoking is a significant one. High blood pressure and other heart-related conditions like hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) are also risk factors that can also be addressed via lifestyle changes. Diet modifications and regular exercise may elicit significant risk reduction. Medication is another option, should lifestyle shifts not be enough.

When Should You Seek Help?

When it comes to brain aneurysms, each individual’s experience is unique. If you have risk factors for a brain aneurysm, especially a family history of brain aneurysms, there are several non-invasive diagnostic scans we offer that can identify the presence of a brain aneurysm, including MRA, CTA. These scans can often be done in well under an hour. In some patients, an angiogram is required to obtain a clearer picture of the aneurysm, especially if the aneurysm is small.

If a brain aneurysm is detected, our team of experts will carefully analyze the aneurysm and consider the patient’s entire situation. We will advise the best next steps based on the individual needs. In some cases, a monitoring approach is the best recommendation. In other cases, aneurysm treatment will be recommended if the aneurysm is deemed to have a significant risk of rupture. When we do recommend aneurysm treatment, we most often use minimally invasive aneurysm treatment techniques to reduce patient risk, minimize downtime and ensure a quicker recovery. Regardless, we always approach every patient scenario with an outcome-specific lens.

New Jersey Brain and Spine has the most experienced and sophisticated neurovascular program in the region. Each year, we evaluate nearly 1,000 brain aneurysm patients and perform about 100 to 130 aneurysm treatments. Our patient outcomes are superior to those reported in the national literature.

If you or a loved one is concerned about the potential for brain aneurysms, please don’t wait to address it. There are many solutions we can implement to avoid the worst-case scenario. Connect with our physicians to learn more.