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Brain Aneurysms: Know the Signs

Posted on March 25, 2011

Ruptured aneurysms cause bleeding in the brain.

Just a quick look at newspaper headlines over the past month make you realize that brain aneurysms don’t discriminate.  From a national grocer’s senior executive, to a U.K. football player, to a Navy veteran, brain aneurysms take lives.  In honor of brain injury awareness day, last week the Brain Aneurysm Foundation reminded everyone about the facts. 

Approximately 30,000 people in the United States will suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm each year.   A brain aneurysm is a “blister” that develops on the walls of a blood vessel in the brain.  Just like skin blisters, the blood vessel wall stretched over the aneurysm (blister) is thin and weak.  When the wall breaks, or ruptures, blood then infiltrates the brain.  The location of the blister will determine the nature and extent of injury to the brain. 

Unfortunately, only forty percent of patients suffering from a ruptured brain aneurysm will survive, with only a third of these living without serious disabilities.   Because of the consequences associated with ruptured aneurysms, identifying aneurysms before they rupture is a matter of life and death.  It is estimated that up to 6 million people in the United States have an unruptured brain aneurysm.  Most of these are small and do not cause any symptoms or warning signs.  In some very lucky cases, small aneurysms are detected incidentally, or by accident, through an MRI scan ordered to diagnose the cause of an unrelated symptom or ordered after a car crash or other injury to the head.  

Some clinical studies have suggested a familial link between certain types of aneurysms.  If you have a first degree relative that has been treated for a brain aneurysm, discuss your concerns with your primary care physician, or email Dr. Lopes with additional questions at info@ChicagoStrokeMD.com

Some unruptured aneurysms, due to their size or location due cause some subtle symptoms.  The most common symptoms include dilated pupils, double vision, pain above and behind the eye and localized headaches.  Specialists like Dr. Demetrius Lopes, fellowship-trained endovascular neurosurgeon at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, are among those doctors trained to treat ruptured and unruptured aneurysms.  The program at Rush is unique.  Because of the complementary backgrounds of  Dr. Lopes and his colleagues, they have a multitude of treatment options to offer patients with ruptured and unruptured aneurysms.  Together the aneurysm treatment specialists at Rush will recommend an individualized treatment approach taking into consideration factors such as patient age, location, size and shape of the aneurysm, as well as any other complicating medical conditions. 

Effective treatments for brain aneurysms include minimally-invasive coiling, stenting and embolization technologies.  All of these procedures, performed in the technologically-advanced interventional suite at Rush University Medical Center, involve accessing the aneurysm from within the blood vessel.   Dr. Lopes and the team deliver devices and implantable materials to the aneurysm which either fill the blister or create a wall across the neck of the aneurysm to restore natural blood flow.  In many cases a combination of therapies will be used.

In addition to the endovascular approach to treating aneurysms offered at Rush, the program’s specialists also treat select aneurysms with open surgery.  Their experience and the sophisticated equipment available at Rush University Medical Center allow for safe surgeries while disrupting as little normal brain tissue as possible.

For more information about brain aneurysms, consult www.ChicagoStrokeMD.com/aneurysms.  Dr. Lopes will also respond to questions about brain aneurysms that are posted in the space provided below or emailed to him at info@ChicagoStrokeMD.com.