Monthly Archives: February 2020

Brain Aneurysm: Diagnosis

Can you spot the 2 aneurysms? The big balloon was the largest and below it was the smallest one that is still intact. This is one of the pictures from my angio showing the aneurysm before the embolization. Zoom in close for details.
This scan compares the brain pre-embolization (top half) and post-embolization (bottom half). Zoom in close for a clear view and details.

Most brain aneurysms go unnoticed until they rupture or are detected during medical imaging tests for another condition. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Cerebral-Aneurysms-Fact-Sheet#5

If you have experienced a severe headache or have any other symptoms related to a ruptured aneurysm your doctor will order tests to determine if blood has leaked into the space between the skull bone and brain. 

Several tests are available to diagnose brain aneurysms and determine the best treatment. These include: 

  • Computed tomography (CT)This fast and painless scan is often the first test a physician will order to determine if blood has leaked into the brain.  CT uses x-rays to create two-dimensional images, or “slices,” of the brain and skull.  Occasionally a contrast dye is injected into the bloodstream prior to scanning to assess the arteries, and look for a possible aneurysm.  This process, called CT angiography (CTA), produces sharper, more detailed images of blood flow in the brain arteries.  CTA can show the size, location, and shape of an unruptured or a ruptured aneurysm. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).   An MRI uses computer-generated radio waves and a magnetic field to create two- and three-dimensional detailed images of the brain and can determine if there has been bleeding into the brain.  Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) produces detailed images of the brain arteries and can show the size, location, and shape of an aneurysm. 
  • Cerebral angiography.  This imaging technique can find blockages in arteries in the brain or neck.  It also can identify weak spots in an artery, like an aneurysm.  The test is used to determine the cause of the bleeding in the brain and the exact location, size, and shape of an aneurysm.  Your doctor will pass a catheter (long, flexible tube) typically from the groin arteries to inject a small amount of contrast dye into your neck and brain arteries.  The contrast dye helps the X-ray create a detailed picture of the appearance of an aneurysm and a clear picture of any blockage in the arteries. 
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis.  This test measures the chemicals in the fluid that cushions and protects the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid).  Most often a doctor will collect the CSF by performing a spinal tap (lumbar puncture), in which a thin needle is inserted into the lower back (lumbar spine) and a small amount of fluid is removed and tested.   The results will help detect any bleeding around the brain.  If bleeding is detected, additional tests would be needed to identify the exact cause of the bleeding. 

In the next segment, I will talk about treatment.

Brain Aneurysm: Risk Factors/causes

Brain aneurysms/cerebral aneurysms form when the walls of the arteries in the brain become thin and weaken.  Aneurysms typically form at branch points in arteries because these sections are the weakest.  Occasionally, cerebral aneurysms may be present from birth, usually resulting from an abnormality in an artery wall. Reference          

Risk factors for developing an aneurysm

Sometimes cerebral aneurysms are the result of inherited risk factors, including:

  • genetic connective tissue disorders that weaken artery walls
  • polycystic kidney disease (in which numerous cysts form in the kidneys)
  • arteriovenous malformations (snarled tangles of arteries and veins in the brain that disrupt blood flow.  Some AVMs develop sporadically, or on their own.)
  • history of aneurysm in a first-degree family member (child, sibling, or parent).

Other risk factors develop over time and include:

  • untreated high blood pressure
  • cigarette smoking
  • drug abuse, especially cocaine or amphetamines, which raise blood pressure to dangerous levels. Intravenous drug abuse is a cause of infectious mycotic aneurysms.
  • age over 40.

Less common risk factors include:

  • head trauma
  • brain tumor
  • infection in the arterial wall (mycotic aneurysm).

Additionally, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol puts one at risk of atherosclerosis (a blood vessel disease in which fats build up on the inside of artery walls), which can increase the risk of developing a fusiform aneurysm.

Risk factors for an aneurysm to rupture

Not all aneurysms will rupture.  Aneurysm characteristics such as size, location, and growth during follow-up evaluation may affect the risk that an aneurysm will rupture. In addition, medical conditions may influence aneurysm rupture.

Risk factors include:

  • Smoking.  Smoking is linked to both the development and rupture of cerebral aneurysms. Smoking may even cause multiple aneurysms to form in the brain.
  • High blood pressure.  High blood pressure damages and weakens arteries, making them more likely to form and to rupture. 
  • Size.  The largest aneurysms are the ones most likely to rupture in a person who previously did not show symptoms.
  • Location.  Aneurysms located on the posterior communicating arteries (a pair of arteries in the back part of the brain) and possibly those on the anterior communicating artery (a single artery in the front of the brain) have a higher risk of rupturing than those at other locations in the brain.
  • Growth.  Aneurysms that grow, even if they are small, are at increased risk of rupture.
  • Family history.  A family history of aneurysm rupture suggests a higher risk of rupture for aneurysms detected in family members.
  • The greatest risk occurs in individuals with multiple aneurysms who have already suffered a previous rupture or sentinel bleed.

For my case, I had been diagnosed with high blood pressure in the first trimester of my second pregnancy and the condition was being managed when I suffered the brain aneurysm. No family history of brain aneurysms that I am aware of. No smoking, no alcohol abuse, and absolutely no drug use except for the ones for BP and vitamins. My take from this is that we are all pretty much at risk. I have heard stories of completely healthy people, very athletic, and with no family history get them. The more information we know about brain aneurysms, the more lives we can help save.

Brain Aneurysm: Definition

Let’s be honest, how many people are familiar with brain aneurysm? Even with a background in healthcare, I did not know what brain aneurysms were all about except for the definition. Often, we find ourselves becoming quite familiar with a condition once we experience it either directly or indirectly.

According to WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/brain/brain-aneurysm#1 , brain aneurysm is defined as below:

Think of a weak spot in a balloon and how it feels stretched out and thin. A brain aneurysm is like that. It’s a weak spot in the wall of a blood vessel inside the brain.

That area of the blood vessel gets worn out from constant flow of blood and bulges out, almost like a bubble. It can grow to the size of a small berry.

Although brain aneurysms sound alarming, most don’t cause symptoms or health problems. You can enjoy a long life without ever realizing that you have a brain aneurysm.

But in rare cases, aneurysms can grow big, leak, or explode. Bleeding in the brain, known as hemorrhagic stroke, is very serious and requires urgent medical care.

A ruptured brain aneurysm can be life-threatening and lead to:


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