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Providers Weigh In: Are you susceptible to brain aneurysms?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As 90 percent of brain aneurysms may be present without any symptoms, this silent and potentially fatal disorder suddenly claimed the life of 49-year-old WABC-TV reporter, Lisa Colagrossi, after finishing a live report in Queens, New York.

A cerebral aneurysm (also called an intracranial aneurysm or brain aneurysm) is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of an artery in the brain, resulting in an abnormal widening, ballooning, or bleb. Because there is a weakened spot in the aneurysm wall, there is a risk for rupture of the aneurysm.

Currently, the cause of cerebral aneurysms is not clearly understood. Brain aneurysms are associated with several factors, including smoking, hypertension, and family history. Although symptoms tend to go unnoticed until the time of the rupture, survival rates depends on a number of factors. These factors include age, overall health of patient, location of brain aneurysm, and how quickly medical care is received.

The following are the symptoms of an unruptured aneurysm:  

  • Headaches (rare, if unruptured) 
  • Eye pain 
  • Vision deficits (problems with seeing) 
  • Eye movement deficits

Most cerebral aneurysms will go unnoticed until they become very large or burst. Symptoms that may occur at the time of rupture include, but are not limited to, the following:  

  • Sudden severe headache 
  • Stiff neck 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Changes in mental status, such as drowsiness 
  • Pain in specific areas, such as the eyes  

Dr. Fady Charbel, professor and head of the Department of Neurosurgery at UI Health agrees, this is indeed a tragic story. "While screening is not usually recommended for the general population, it is of benefit especially where there is predisposition such as in the above," says Charbel. "The most critical aspect once an aneurysm is detected  is appropriate counseling by an experienced integrated multidisciplinary team, such as the Brain Aneurysm Center at UI health."