Are you at risk for an aneurysm?
Family history, smoking—and just being a woman—may make you more susceptible. Have you been tested?
Beth Stambaugh Published: 8/30/2018
Three to five million Americans are walking around with a brain aneurysm and don’t even know it.
A brain aneurysm is a bulge on the wall of a blood vessel resembling a balloon. Every year, an estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. experience a ruptured aneurysm, which can cause a stroke.
Just like a heart attack, there is usually no warning that a brain aneurysm might rupture. So how can you lower your chances of having an aneurysm?
First, identify your risks and control what you can. Many risk factors can be eliminated simply through a healthier lifestyle. Smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, high blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes can make you more susceptible.
Other factors are not in your control, like having a family history of aneurysms. In fact, if you have a family member with a brain aneurysm, your risk of having one increases from 4 percent to 6 percent. That risk doubles to 8 percent if you have two family members with an aneurysm.
A simple, noninvasive imaging test, called an MRA can detect if an aneurysm is present. Your primary care doctor can order the test or refer you to a neurologist if needed.
“Family history is the highest predictor of developing an aneurysm,” Dr. Hanel said. “If you have a strong history of brain aneurysms in your family, you should get screened right away. Anyone who has two or more relatives with an aneurysm should be checked every five to 10 years starting at age 20.”
Dr. Hanel also noted that women are more likely to have an aneurysm, as are those who’ve had one in the past.
“Having had an aneurysm means there is a 15 to 20 percent chance you will develop another. If you are at risk, you need to be closely monitored by a skilled endovascular neurosurgeon to prevent another occurrence,” he said.
The good news is that most aneurysms are treatable. Dr. Hanel, along with his colleagues neurosurgeons Eric Sauvageau, MD, and Nima Amin Aghaebrahim, MD, have removed many types of aneurysms without more complex open-brain surgery, which had long been the norm.
“Depending on the size and location, we can treat many aneurysms by going through a blood vessel in the leg and navigating up to the brain,” Dr. Hanel said.
Drs. Hanel, Sauvageau and Aghaebrahim employ advanced noninvasive treatments as flow diverter technology, in which a braided cylindrical mesh is inserted into the aneurysm to slow the flow of blood and allow the diseased vessel to heal. The doctors can also fill the aneurysm with coils, which causes it to dry up over time.
“If they can get the right treatment in time, people don’t have to die of brain aneurysms,” said Dr. Hanel.
Aneurysm risk factors include:
- Older age (especially older than 50)
- Family history of brain aneurysms
- Gender. Women are more likely than men to have an aneurysm. Alcohol or drug abuse, particularly cocaine
- High blood pressure
- Polycystic kidney disease
Know the symptoms
Over time, a brain aneurysm may grow and press on brain nerves. If this happens, you may experience:
- Sudden or severe headaches
- Pain above or behind the eye
- Blurred or double vision
Visit baptistjax.com/aneurysmto learn more about aneurysm risk factors, symptoms and treatment.