brain health

What Can Cause a Cerebral Aneurysm?

Blood vessels are generally strong and resilient, but if the wall of a vessel starts to weaken, it will start to balloon out or widen. The bulge might not be noticeable, but there’s a possibility it will cause pressure on nearby parts of the body–or it can burst, which not only affects the flow of blow but can also force blood to go where it’s not supposed to.

This condition, which can occur in blood vessels in several areas of the body, is called an aneurysm. If it occurs in a blood vessel in the brain, it’s called a cerebral aneurysm.

A cerebral aneurysm, which can be grown from as large as a pencil eraser to as large as a quarter,1 can take a few different forms, including:

  • A saccular aneurysm, which is also known as a berry aneurysm because a rounded sac of blood forms off the side of a vessel, resembling a berry attached to a vine. 
  • A fusiform aneurysm, which balloons or bulges out on all sides of the artery. 
  • A mycotic aneurysm, which is caused by an infection.

If the aneurysm hasn’t burst, it’s called an unruptured aneurysm. This kind of cerebral aneurysm affects an estimated 1 in 50 people in the United States and is often undetected because it might not have any noticeable symptoms. Unruptured aneurysms usually won’t affect your overall health.

In some cases—about 8 to 10 out of 100,000 people every year2—the aneurysm will burst, and it will be referred to as a ruptured aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm is a cause of a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which is when blood previously contained within the vessel can flow into your cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds and supports the brain and nervous system. This can cause a wide range of symptoms and conditions, some of which cause permanent damage or death.

By understanding the causes of a cerebral aneurysm—especially the lifestyle factors that you can control—you can take steps to reduce your risk of having this serious condition.

Risk Factors for Developing Cerebral Aneurysms

There are several reasons why you might develop a cerebral aneurysm, and anyone at any age can have one, though they’re most common in adults aged 30 to 60, and in women more often than men. Some of the reasons you might develop a cerebral aneurysm include:

  • Having a parent or sibling who also developed a cerebral aneurysm
  • Development of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting the brain’s arteries and veins. 
  • Inheriting a tendency for weakened blood vessels
  • Brain trauma, tumors, or infection

Several factors that increase your risk of developing a cerebral aneurysm over time include:

  • Excessive cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption
  • High blood pressure, especially if you let it go untreated
  • Drug abuse, particularly substances that can raise your blood pressure, such as cocaine
  • Atherosclerosis, a build-up of fats and cholesterol on the walls of an artery, caused by smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes

Most of the above factors, such as smoking, will impact the chances of a cerebral aneurysm rupturing, as well as the aneurysm’s size, location, and growth. 

Symptoms of a Cerebral Aneurysm

An unruptured cerebral aneurysm may go undetected for years, if not an entire lifetime, especially if its size remains constant and isn’t large enough to press on nerves or tissues. Symptoms, which resemble symptoms for other conditions affecting the head and neck, include:

  • Pain above and behind the eyes
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Paralysis on one side of the face
  • A pupil that is dilated, meaning it looks larger than normal
  • Vision changes, including double vision

The symptoms of a ruptured cerebral aneurysm are more severe, and often sudden. The most common of these symptoms is an intense headache but can include serious conditions such as stroke. You might also experience:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light, where the light level outside or in a room feels too bright and causes pain or discomfort
  • Double vision
  • A loss of consciousness 
  • Cardiac arrest (heart attack)

If you are experiencing these symptoms or think you’re suffering from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, seek medical help immediately.

Make an Appointment with Dr. Woodall Today

Dr. Woodall has the training and experience to diagnose and treat an extensive range of conditions related to the brain and nervous system, including unruptured and ruptured cerebral aneurysms. Contact our office today.