What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm occurs when pressure causes a weak point in a blood vessel to balloon. The small sac or bulge created is known as an aneurysm.
When people talk about aneurysms, they are most often referring to brain aneurysms, also called cerebral or intracranial aneurysms, but aneurysms can also form in the abdomen or, more rarely, in the chest.
The danger is that the brain aneurysm will burst. Ruptured aneurysms are fatal about half of the time, and more than half of those who survive suffer permanent brain damage.
Not all brain aneurysms rupture. In fact, about 1 in 50 people in the United States has an unruptured aneurysm, and 50-80% of aneurysms don’t burst during a person’s life.
Early and accurate diagnosis of a brain aneurysm is crucial. Unruptured aneurysms can often be treated before they burst. In the case of a ruptured aneurysm, immediate care may save a person’s life and lessen brain damage.
Signs of an aneurysm
Small and unchanging aneurysms generally produce no symptoms and are often discovered in the course of imaging or tests for other conditions. When an aneurysm does produce symptoms, the symptoms depend on the aneurysm’s location and on whether or not the aneurysm has ruptured.
A ruptured aneurysm is almost always accompanied by sudden and severe pain in the region of the aneurysm.
An unruptured, growing brain aneurysm may lead to any of the following head-related symptoms:
- Pain above or behind the eye
- Partial facial paralysis or a drooping eyelid
- Double vision (also called diplopia) or other vision changes
- A dilated pupil
A ruptured brain aneurysm will almost always cause a sudden and severe headache. You may also experience the following:
- Double vision
- Stiff neck
- Sensitivity to light (also called photosensitivity)
- Cardiac arrest
- Loss of consciousness
An aneurysm that has not ruptured fully may also begin to leak, which will cause a headache and should be treated immediately.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
An unruptured aneurysm in the abdomen produces symptoms only about one-fourth of the time. The most common sign of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is pain, either sharp or dull, in the abdomen, groin, lower back, or chest.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms may also cause a pulsing or throbbing feeling, similar to a heartbeat, in the abdomen.
If your pain is sudden and severe, this may be a sign that the aneurysm is about to burst and it should be considered a medical emergency.
If the aneurysm ruptures, you may experience any of the following in addition to localized pain:
Thoracic aortic aneurysm
An aneurysm in the chest is rare and is usually related to certain genetic disorders or a personal history of aortic valve problems. People with first-degree relatives who have had a thoracic aortic aneurysm should be screened.
In addition to pain, you may experience any of the following symptoms as the thoracic aortic aneurysm leaks, expands, or ruptures:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Neck swelling
- Rapid heartbeat
Types of aneurysms
Aneurysms are generally classified according to their formation. There are three types:
Sometimes called a berry aneurysm because it resembles a berry on a vine, a saccular aneurysm forms a small sac on an artery.
This kind of aneurysm bulges out on all sides of the artery.
This type of aneurysm forms as a result of an infection that weakens the arteries.
Doctors also classify aneurysms according to their size: small, large, or giant.
Causes of an aneurysm
Aneurysms may arise suddenly after severe trauma, but they more often result from the gradual weakening of arteries throughout a person’s life. Certain conditions or behaviors increase your risk of developing an aneurysm:
- High blood pressure (also called hypertension)
- Family history
- Congenital abnormality (birth defect)
- Head trauma
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse, particularly of cocaine
Gender can also play a role. Women are more likely to develop brain aneurysms and have brain aneurysms rupture. However, men are more likely to develop abdominal aneurysms.
Certain other disorders can also increase your chance of developing an aneurysm. These include:
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Marfan syndrome
- Fibromuscular dysplasia
- Polycystic kidney disease
When to see the doctor for an aneurysm
You should see a doctor if you experience any signs of an aneurysm.
In the event of a ruptured aneurysm, call emergency medical services rather than having someone drive you to the hospital. First responders may be required to give you lifesaving treatment in the emergency vehicle.
- What Is Avascular Necrosis and How Does It Affect Bones?
- The Arch of the Human Foot Was Key to Upright Walking, Scientists Say
- Worried About Cataracts? Here's What You Need to Know
- FDA Issues Warning About Compounded Versions of Wegovy, Ozempic
- Sick Restaurant Workers Fuel Many Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
- More Health News »
Diagnosing an aneurysm
Aneurysms are detected through medical imaging and screening, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Cerebral angiography
In the case of a suspected brain aneurysm, doctors may also perform a cerebrospinal fluid (CBF) analysis. In a cerebrospinal fluid analysis, cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that flows within and around the brain and spinal cord) is gathered through a lumbar puncture and then tested to detect the presence of bleeding.
Treatments for an aneurysm
Treatment will depend on the location and size of the aneurysm. The patient’s age and health may also play a role in determining the best course of action.
Some aneurysms may only require monitoring and risk-factor reduction. In other cases, surgery may be required.
For an aortic aneurysm, the aorta (a large artery in the body) may be replaced with a fabric or plastic graft. Brain aneurysms are surgically treated with clipping, the placement of a metal clip across the base of the aneurysm so that no blood can enter.
For some other aneurysms, endovascular therapy, therapy within the blood vessels, may be an option. In such cases, a coil or stent will be placed within the vessel to divert blood flow.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Brain Aneurysm Foundation: "Statistics and Facts."
Brain Aneurysm Foundation: "Treatment."
Brain Aneurysm Foundation: "Warning Signs/Symptoms."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Understanding aneurysms."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm."
MedlinePlus: "Thoracic aortic aneurysm."
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Cerebral Aneurysms Fact Sheet."
Top What Are the Warning Signs of an Aneurysm Related Articles
Brain Aneurysm Warning SignsBrain aneurysms may rarely cause any warning symptoms before they rupture. Symptoms may occur if the aneurysm is large or if it causes pressure on the structures around it.
Abdominal Aortic AneurysmAbdominal aortic aneurysm is a ballooning or widening of the main artery (the aorta) as it courses down through the abdomen. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms produce no symptoms. Treatment may include observation or surgical repair.
Aneurysm vs Stroke: Which Is Worse?What is the difference between an aneurysm and a stroke?
Angina: Signs, Symptoms, and What It Feels LikeAngina is chest pain due to inadequate blood supply to the heart. Angina symptoms may include chest tightness, burning, squeezing, and aching. Coronary artery disease is the main cause of angina but there are other causes. Angina is diagnosed by taking the patient's medical history and performing tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood test, stress test, echocardiogram, cardiac CT scan, and heart catheterization. Treatment of angina usually includes lifestyle modification, medication, and sometimes, surgery. The risk of angina can be reduced by following a heart healthy lifestyle.
Brain AneurysmA brain aneurysm (cerebral aneurysm) is caused by microscopic damage to artery walls, infections of the artery walls, tumors, trauma, and drug abuse. Symptoms include headache, numbness of the face, dilated pupils, changes in vision, the "worst headache of your life," or a painful stiff neck. Immediate treatment for a brain aneurysm is crucial for patient survival.
Can Aneurysms Be Treated?An aneurysm occurs when part of an artery wall weakens. Learn what medical treatments can help treat your aneurysm and help you manage this condition.
High Blood Pressure & BodyHigh blood pressure puts you at risk for a number of other conditions. Here's what to look out for.
Stroke vs Aneurysm (Differences and Similarities)A stroke or "brain attack" is caused because blood flow to an area of the brain has been cut off by a blood clot or by a weakened or damaged blood vessel (for example, head trauma). The damaged area of the brain dies, which results in loss of function like speech capabilities, muscle movement, or muscles of an extremity like an arm or leg is reduced or lost completely. An aneurysm is a weakness in an artery wall. This weakness in the wall causes the artery to widen or balloon out, and then they rupture or break open.
What Are the Causes of a Headache Behind the Eyes?A headache behind the eyes is an uncomfortable sensation that is felt around or on the back of the eye, which may or may not be a throbbing ache. Causes of headaches behind the eyes include tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, occipital neuralgia, brain aneurysm, Grave's disease, scleritis, dry eyes, vision problems, eye strain and poor posture.
What Does a CT Head Scan Show?A computerized axial tomography (CAT) or computerized tomography (CT) scan uses a series of X-rays taken at different angles to produce a detailed image of the head and brain. A CT scan is done to study the patient’s skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones, and to investigate tumors, head injuries, aneurysms, and other conditions.