ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – It’s estimated that 6 million people in the United States have a brain aneurysm with 30,000 rupturing each year. Women are one and a half times more likely than men to develop an aneurysm.
“We used to say about 30% of patients died before they even made it to the hospital. That number is now probably closer to 10% with better EMS care,” said Dr. Alexandra Paul, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Albany Medical Center.
A brain aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel. It can rupture, causing life threatening bleeding into the brain.
“The signs of a ruptured aneurysm are usually the worst headache of the patient’s life and that is generally what brings them to emergency room,” said Dr. Paul.
Other patients find out they have an aneurism through a CT scan done for an unrelated reason.
“If they were in a car accident or they have migraine headaches,” explained Dr. Paul.
Brain aneurysms develop as a result of thinning artery walls. A number of factors can contribute.
“The biggest risk factor that we know of is smoking. Similar to stroke, smoking also significantly increases both the risk of aneurysm development and then if you have an aneurysm, the risks of aneurysm rupture.”
High blood pressure, some genetic disorders, and being a woman over the age of 40 put you at increased risk.
“There is some research being done looking at the effects of estrogen on the components of the vessel wall and so likely that is why.”
When an aneurysm ruptures, patients need to seek immediate treatment.
“A lot of people think that the aneurysm is still bleeding until we treated but almost always the aneurysm stops bleeding from the elevated pressure but the risk of re-bleeding is highest in the first 24 hours,” she said.
Treatment options are open surgery, where a clamp is placed on the neck of the aneurysm or going inside the blood vessels with coils or other devices to stop the flow of blood. Above all, Dr. Paul says seeking help right away can be lifesaving.
“We certainly see some patients who try to tough it out but the safest thing is to be evaluated,” she said.
Family history also plays a role in prevention. Dr. Paul recommends those with two or more first degree relatives with a history of brain aneurysms get regular screenings starting at age 20.