What is a cerebral aneurysm?

A brain aneurysm is a swelling of one of the blood vessels in the brain. While the swelling itself isn't necessarily dangerous, the aneurysm can burst, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke. The aneurysm can also contribute to the development of blood clots, which can travel to the brain and cause damage. For these reasons, medical professionals consider brain aneurysms to be of serious concern, and steps can be taken to treat an aneurysm in the brain before it has a chance to burst or contribute to clotting in the brain.

Aneurysms in general are simply swellings of the blood vessels. They can be caused by a variety of things, from a congenital weakness in the blood vessel wall that causes it to swell, to a medical condition that weakens or puts pressure on the vessel walls, causing them to swell. An aneurysm often goes undetected until it bursts, because the swelling usually doesn't cause symptoms. Aneurysms are common in both the aorta and the brain, as well as being found in other areas of the body.

The most common site for a brain aneurysm is a set of large arteries at the base of the brain in an area known as the Circle of Willis. Although the swelling is small, the patient experiences no symptoms. As it grows, some neurological problems such as headaches and vomiting can occur, and if the aneurysm bursts, the patient will develop signs of stroke, indicating that bleeding is taking place in the brain.

This type of aneurysm is also sometimes known as a cerebral or intracranial aneurysm. A brain aneurysm can be diagnosed with medical imaging studies in which the vascular system in the brain is examined. Such a study may be ordered if a patient is at risk, such as in families with hereditary aneurysms, or when a patient shows symptoms that could indicate a problem in the brain.

Once identified, a brain aneurysm may be left in place or treated, depending on the location, size, and degree of risk. One treatment, endovascular embolization, also known as coiling, involves inserting a coiled wire into the aneurysm, forcing it to coagulate and thereby removing it. Clipping surgery, in which the base of the aneurysm is sealed off with a clip, is also an option. Clipping is much more invasive, but also more reliable in removing a brain aneurysm.

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