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September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month


Man with severe headache--one symptom of aneurysm
Sudden, severe headache can be one symptom of an aneurysm.

By some estimates, about 1 in 50 Americans has a brain aneurysm.*

That number surprises many people. When some people hear “brain aneurysm,” they think “ruptured brain aneurysm.” Ruptured brain aneurysms are rare—but they can be devastating.

What’s the difference? An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened spot in the wall of a blood vessel. Many brain aneurysms are found incidentally while a doctor is scanning the brain for something else. Most are small. Often, they will never cause any kind of problem.

Large brain aneurysms are more dangerous. They can cause symptoms because of the pressure they put on nearby areas of the brain or nerves. The symptoms may include severe localized headache, dilated pupils, double vision, pain above and behind the eye, or difficulty speaking. All of these symptoms are cause for careful evaluation by a physician.

“Most aneurysms that are discovered accidentally when they have not ruptured, do not cause symptoms,” says Columbia Neurosurgery Chair, Dr. Robert Solomon. “Although many of these incidental aneurysms should be prophylactically treated, many unruptured aneurysms do not require surgery. Each patient should be evaluated individually by experts in aneurysm treatment. Size and configuration of the aneurysm, age and medical condition of the patient, and treatment risks, all have to be weighed in making a final recommendation.”

If an aneurysm ruptures, blood can hemorrhage into the brain. It rarely happens, but when it does, it is a medical emergency. Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include sudden, severe headache; loss of consciousness; nausea; sudden trouble walking, thinking, and/or seeing; sudden weakness and numbness; and seizures. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, ruptured aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases.

Small unruptured aneurysms can often be monitored; they don’t always need surgery. But aneurysms likely to rupture can be treated to prevent that from happening.

Some aneurysms are more likely to rupture than others. The larger an aneurysm is, for example, the more likely it is to rupture. The type of aneurysm, its location, and whether it has changed in size over time also influence the risk of rupture. Other risk factors for aneurysm rupture include smoking, high blood pressure, and a family or personal history of a ruptured aneurysm.

The last risk factor listed above is especially important when it comes to screening. People with a family history of a ruptured aneurysm should consider getting screened for unruptured aneurysms themselves. (For a personal story of the effect this screening had on one woman, watch the story of Dr. Solomon’s patient Valentina here.)

Unruptured aneurysms should be evaluated by specialists. When treatment is warranted, these aneurysms  should be treated at major medical centers, like Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital–by experts like ours who specialize in their treatment. (Watch this video clip of aneurysm survivor Casilda, a patient of neurosurgeons Dr. Sean Lavine and Dr. E. Sander Connolly.)

Dr. Robert Solomon
Dr. Robert Solomon

Our Cerebrovascular Center is home to several leaders in aneurysm evaluation and treatment:

This September, for Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, make yourself aware of the signs and symptoms of ruptured and unruptured aneurysms. And if you have a family history of aneurysm, consider making an appointment to be screened.

Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month was established by the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. This group aims to reduce aneurysm rupture by raising awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for brain aneurysms.

Learn more about Dr. Robert Solomon on his bio page here.

Learn more about Dr. E. Sander Connolly on his bio page here.

Learn more about Dr. Sean Lavine on his bio page here.

Learn more about Dr. Philip Meyers on his bio page here.

*Source: Brain Aneurysm Foundation

Image credit: [Gene Tobia] / Flickr

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