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Discovering a Brain Aneurysm
last updated:
Thu, 11/04/2010 10:36 AM

Just ten or twenty years ago it was relatively rare to discover an aneurysm in someone’s brain before it caused a problem. The majority of the aneurysm patients that doctors saw were those whose aneurysms had ruptured. These days patients get CT or MRI scans for a variety of problems like headaches and sinus infections. Some of these scans show aneurysms that have nothing to do with the reason for the scan.

Since I am a neurosurgeon who specializes in the treatment of brain aneurysms, may be sent to see me. Most weeks I see several patients with incidentally discovered aneurysms. These patients are often frightened and in need of information and advice. There are a lot of physicians like me who do research to understand how best to treat you and also spend time on counseling and treating.

Aneurysms are weak spots on the sides of arteries underneath the brain. Imagine that you are buying a garden hose. When the manufacturer made this particular hose, they made a mistake and there is a spot on the side of the hose where the rubber is thinned. On this spot the rubber is as thin as a balloon instead of thick like the rubber on a hose should be. When you get the hose home and start using it, it works fine. Over time, however, as you turn the water pressure on and off repeatedly, that thin spot bulges so that there is a small water balloon on the side of the hose. We think that brain aneurysms form in a similar way. You may have been born with a thin spot on an artery but over time as blood has flown through the artery this spot has become a small, thin-walled sac hanging off of the side of the artery. We know that some drugs, like nicotine, can increase the risk of aneurysms growing or rupturing.

So if you or a friend has had an aneurysm discovered in your brain “incidentally,” or during a scan for something else, then you may be coming to see me or someone like me. I will probably talk to you about how important it is to stop smoking; the last thing you want to do is to increase the risk of the aneurysm growing or rupturing. We will review what factors might make this particular aneurysm more safe or more dangerous together. I might want better pictures of the aneurysm before giving you definitive advice about whether to treat it or not. Whatever you decide, make sure that you get good advice and understand your options so that you can get the best care possible.

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Dr. Adam Arthur is the Director of Cerebrovascular and Endovascular Neurosurgery at the Methodist University Hospital Neuroscience Institute. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Call 888.777.5959 for more information.

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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000

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