Key Points about Brain Aneurysm (Intracranial Aneurysm)

  • Being older, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and being a smoker can increase your risks of developing a brain aneurysm.
  • Imaging scans can help diagnose brain aneurysms.
  • Your specialist may recommend surgery or medications to treat your aneurysm.
A brain aneurysm – also known as an intracranial aneurysm – is a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain. Often, aneurysms don’t cause any symptoms. If not detected, the aneurysm can leak or rupture (burst), which leads to bleeding in the brain. This is known as a hemorrhagic stroke, which is a serious, life-threatening condition. 

Brain aneurysm causes 

Experts don’t know the cause of brain aneurysms.

Brain aneurysm risk factors

Several factors can increase your risk of having a brain aneurysm, including:

  • Being older
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Having a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
  • Having a connective tissue disorder, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Having a parent, child or sibling with a brain aneurysm
  • Having coarctation of the aorta
  • Having hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Having polycystic kidney disease
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Using recreational drugs, especially cocaine

Brain aneurysm symptoms

The symptoms that you may experience depend on whether the aneurysm has ruptured or not.

Unruptured aneurysm symptoms

Often, an aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured won’t have any symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms of an aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured can include:

  • Change in your vision, or having double vision
  • Numbness on one side of your face
  • Pain above and behind one of your eyes
  • A dilated (large) pupil

Leaking aneurysm symptom

Sometimes, an aneurysm may start to leak a small amount of blood. Known as a sentinel bleed, this small leak may cause a sudden, extreme headache.

Ruptured aneurysm symptoms

Signs and symptoms of an aneurysm that has ruptured may include:

  • Sudden, extreme headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizure
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Loss of consciousness (“passing out”)
  • Confusion

Brain aneurysm diagnosis

Your neurologist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose an intracranial aneurysm:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. Your neurologist can use this scan to check for bleeding in your brain.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid test. If the CT scan doesn’t show bleeding in the brain, but you still have symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm, your specialist may use this test to check for evidence of bleeding in your brain.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This imaging scan can detect aneurysms in the brain.
  • Cerebral angiogram. Your specialist may use this type of specialized X-ray to view your arteries and locate an aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm treatment

Treatment for a brain aneurysm usually involves a combination of the following:

  • Surgery. Your specialist may recommend a surgical procedure to clip off or seal up the aneurysm, which stops blood flow to it and removes the chance of it rupturing in the future.
  • Flow diverter. Your specialist may recommend placing a flow diverter, which is a stent-like device that diverts blood away from the aneurysm. Doing so reduces or eliminates the chance of future aneurysm rupture. If invasive surgery is not an option, physicians can use flow diverters.
  • Vasopressor injections. If your aneurysm has ruptured, your specialist may recommend injecting a type of medication call vasopressors, which increases blood pressure and overcome the resistance of narrowed blood vessels.
  • Medications. If your aneurysm has ruptured, your neurologist may recommend medications – such as pain relievers, calcium channel blockers or anti-seizure medicines – to help manage the symptoms and reduce chances of complications developing.
  • Rehabilitation. You may need to undergo physical, speech and/or occupational therapy to relearn skills lost due to the brain damage caused by an aneurysm.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a neurologist for more specialized treatment.