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How is a Brain Aneurysm Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing warning signs or symptoms of an aneurysm, it's important to understand that this is an emergency medical situation. Sudden onset of symptoms may indicate that the aneurysm has ruptured and is bleeding into the brain. Urgent neurologic evaluation and testing is essential to survival.

An unruptured brain aneurysm may be found while undergoing brain imaging — such as MRI or CT scan — or a medical evaluation for another reason, such as an evaluation for headaches or other neurological symptoms.

If you, or someone you know is at a high risk for a brain aneurysm, screening tests can be done to check for an aneurysm.

If an aneurysm is discovered, it's important to have a consultation with a neurosurgeon who is an expert in diagnosing and treating aneurysms.

Brain Aneurysm Imaging

Aneurysms can be diagnosed by several imaging tests, including brain magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and head computerized tomography angiography (CTA).   

Cerebral Angiography

A cerebral angiogram is a diagnostic procedure that evaluates the blood vessels of the brain to look for blockages or abnormalities, such as aneurysms. The test is performed in a hospital by specialists called neuro-interventionists.

  • The test involves the insertion of a catheter in a large blood vessel of the leg, which is threaded up toward the brain.
  • A dye is then injected and X-ray pictures are taken of the blood vessels as the blood moves through the brain arteries and veins.
  • If an aneurysm is found, this test determines the best treatment plan.  

Computerized Tomography (CT) scan

A CT scan uses X-rays to take a series of images of the structures of the brain.

  • This may be one of the first tests used to discover if you have an aneurysm.
  • You also may have a variation of this test called a Computerized Tomography Angiography (CTA) to show the blood vessels of the brain.

Computerized Tomography Angiograpy (CTA) scan

A CTA scan is a noninvasive radiographic test of the blood vessels in the brain using CT technology.

  • A series of thin-cut X-rays are taken after a dye is inserted through an IV in your arm.
  • The X-rays show a 3D image of the blood vessels and surrounding tissue of the brain.
  • The test is easily tolerated by patients and takes only a few minutes.
  • Patients with kidney problems may have a different type of imaging test.

Lumbar Puncture

A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is a procedure to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from your spine with a needle to look for blood in the spinal fluid.

  • If imaging tests show that you have bleeding in the brain, blood is likely to be present in the fluid surrounding your brain and spine (cerebrospinal fluid). 
  • This test may ordered if you have symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm but the CT scan does not show evidence of bleeding.

Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) scan

An MRA is a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan that uses a magnetic field to evaluate the blood flow through the network of brain blood vessels.

  • A dye may be used during MRA to show blood vessels more clearly.
  • MRA does not use X-rays.
  • Patients who are claustrophobic may not tolerate this test.
  • Patients who have metallic implants or a pacemaker should not have an MRA.


NOVA (Noninvasive Optimal Vessel Analysis) MRA is a new technology that goes beyond traditional MRA in imaging the brain blood vessels. This technology was first developed by Dr. Fady T. Charbel in order to better understand complex cerebrovascular problems and more effectively develop treatment strategies.

  • NOVA MRA is the first type of scan that noninvasively measures blood flow in cerebral blood vessels. 
  • It incorporates interactive 3D images with a 360° view that allows precise identification of each blood vessel for volumetric blood flow measurement. 
  • NOVA provides physicians with the flexibility to evaluate and pinpoint specific areas within a vessel that may be of concern.
  • This type of scan is helpful in diagnosing patients who have had a stroke, cerebral aneurysms, and those who suffer from neurovascular disease related to chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.