Everything to Know about Aneurysms: Types, Symptoms, Causes & More
An aneurysm is a weakness in the wall of a blood vessel that results in a balloon-like bulge. The weakened vessel wall increases the risk of bursting and causing life-threatening bleeding. Aneurysms can occur in any blood vessel, but they are most common in the brain, heart, and arteries supplying the legs. These locations are all vessels with high pressure from blood flow. Artery aneurysms are more common than those in veins or capillaries because these vessels have thinner walls.
The most frequent type of aneurysm is known as a saccular aneurysm, and it’s almost always located on the anterior side of the artery (usually the left carotid). These weak spots tend to be smaller than other types of aneurysms and develop over time due to repeated stress or strain on that section of the artery. There is no known single cause for aneurysms.
Still, several factors put you at risks, such as family history, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, diabetes and certain genetic conditions such as polycystic kidney disease or Ehlers–Danlos syndrome.
Types of Aneurysms
There are four types of aneurysms based on their location and shape. They are:
- Arterial aneurysm: This is the most common type of aneurysm and occurs in the arteries that take blood away from the heart and other organs.
- Saccular aneurysm: This aneurysm is caused by a tear in the wall of a portion of an artery that results in a balloon-like bulge of the artery due to the blood flowing out of the tear.
- Fusiform aneurysm: This aneurysm is a type of arterial aneurysm that causes a portion of an artery to swell like a balloon.
- Venous aneurysm: This aneurysm occurs in the veins that take the blood back to the heart and is most common in the legs.
Brain Aneurysm Treatment
For an aneurysm in the brain, the doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove the blood vessel (carotid artery) where the aneurysm is located. This surgery reduces the risk of stroke but does not completely eliminate it. The doctor will likely recommend high blood pressure medication to reduce the risk of a stroke in the future.
How are Aneurysms Diagnosed?
A doctor will likely perform a physical exam, a medical history review and order blood work to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. If a doctor suspects you have an aneurysm or another abnormality in a blood vessel, they will likely order an imaging study to confirm the diagnosis. This can include an ultrasound, CT, MRI, or PET scan.
In some cases, a doctor may take a sample of the blood vessel for testing if they need to confirm a diagnosis or rule out other conditions. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair or clip the aneurysm to prevent it from rupturing.
What is the Risk of Rupturing?
There are no reliable ways to predict when an aneurysm will rupture. Aneurysms that have not ruptured can be treated before they cause any symptoms, but the risk of rupture will never be zero. If an aneurysm ruptures, the person usually experiences a sudden, severe headache that is usually described as “the worst headache of my life.”
A person may also experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision or paralysis. The risk of a ruptured aneurysm is very high in the first hour after it ruptures.
Symptoms of Aneurysm
Most people do not have any symptoms until a blood vessel ruptures. If an aneurysm is discovered, a doctor may order tests to determine how large it is, the location and how much it is likely to rupture. If an aneurysm is large enough to cause symptoms, it will be noticed during a physical exam or a medical history review.
If an aneurysm is large and presses against surrounding tissues or nerves and causes symptoms, a doctor may order imaging tests to find the aneurysm. Imaging tests may include an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan, or a PET scan. If an aneurysm is small, it may not cause symptoms. However, an aneurysm is likely to increase in size and rupture as time passes. The risk of rupture is higher as the aneurysm grows in size.
Treatments for Aneurysms
Doctors may use one or a combination of therapies for treatment.
Aneurysm Surgery: Clipping or endovascular surgery is the most common treatment for aneurysms. During surgery, the doctor makes a small incision in the skin and clamps off the blood flow to the aneurysm before carefully removing the sac. The doctor then carefully stitches the artery shut to prevent the aneurysm from growing back.
Endovascular Surgery: During this surgery, a doctor places a small device inside the artery to find and treat the aneurysm.
Aneurysm Surgery and Recovery
The doctor will open up the blood vessel during surgery and remove the aneurysm. After surgery, you will likely spend several days in the hospital as you heal. You may experience some short-term side effects like headache, nausea, vomiting, or pain around the incision. A doctor will prescribe medication to reduce these side effects.
Your doctor will likely prescribe blood-thinning medications to reduce the risk of a blood clot in the incision site. It’s important to follow the dosage instructions on the medication. You will need to take these medications for several months.
Conclusion: Causes of Aneurysm
Aneurysms are dangerous blood vessel abnormalities that are often treatable with surgery. An aneurysm rupture can cause sudden, severe symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, or paralysis. A doctor will usually recommend aneurysm surgery to prevent further complications.
An aneurysm can be treated with medication or surgery, but the risk of rupture will never be zero. It’s important to monitor your blood pressure and follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment.