Brain Aneurysms

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Finding out you have a brain aneurysm is scary. You may know it’s in your brain and can be serious. But you might not know exactly what an aneurysm is, what it means for you, and what might happen. You have lots of questions and you’re not sure where to find the answers.

That’s where we come in. We have a whole team of experts on caring for brain aneurysms. We’ll help you understand what it means and how to protect your health.

What Is a Brain Aneurysm?

Blood vessels are tubes that carry blood between the heart and rest of the body. An aneurysm is when the sides of a tube get weak and bulge or balloon out. An aneurysm in the brain is called a brain aneurysm, cerebral aneurysm, or intracranial aneurysm.

An unruptured brain aneurysm is one that hasn’t opened while a ruptured brain aneurysm is one that has burst.

Unruptured Brain Aneurysms

Most unruptured brain aneurysms don’t cause symptoms. Most people find out they have a brain aneurysm when they get imaging for another reason and it shows up on the scan.

A larger brain aneurysm can press on the brain tissue and nerves and cause:

  • Pain above or behind one eye
  • One dilated pupil
  • Double vision or other vision changes
  • Numbness on one side of the face

We’ll look at several factors to find the best way to handle your unruptured brain aneurysm, including:

  • The size, location, and type of aneurysm
  • How likely it is to rupture (break open)
  • Your age and health
  • Risks of treatment

We use these tests to learn more about your aneurysm:

Understanding Brain Aneurysms

UVA Health neurosurgeon Min Park, MD, breaks down everything you need to know about living with an unruptured brain aneurysm: what it is, what it means, when you might need treatment, and what treatment looks like. View transcript.

Watchful Waiting & Lifestyle Changes

If the risks of surgery outweigh the risk of your aneurysm rupturing, we’ll recommend watchful waiting. That means we’ll get new scans on a regular schedule to see if the aneurysm gets bigger and needs surgery.

To lower the risk of your brain aneurysm rupturing, we can also help you with quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure.

If your aneurysm is at risk of bursting, you may need surgery. Learn about brain aneurysm treatments.

Screening & Genetic Counseling

Brain aneurysms run in families. 

Ask us about screening if you have 2 or more blood relatives who have or had a brain aneurysm. Remember, that could also be a kind of bleeding stroke called a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

We may recommend seeing one of our genetic counselors if you have a brain aneurysm and 1 of these:

  • Aneurysm in another body part, like an aortic aneurysm
  • Signs or diagnosis of certain syndromes, like Ehlers-Danlos or Loeys-Deitz
  • Multiple cysts in your kidneys (polycystic kidney disease)
  • Family history of any of the above

A genetic counselor can help you decide if genetic testing is right for you. 

Ruptured Brain Aneurysms

When a brain aneurysm ruptures, the blood vessel wall breaks and blood spills into the brain.

Sometimes a brain aneurysm opens and leaks a small amount of blood (sentinel bleed). You may have warning headaches for days or weeks before a large rupture. If you know you have a brain aneurysm, let you doctor know right away if you start having frequent headaches.

A ruptured brain aneurysm is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke, and is a life-threatening emergency. The main symptom of a ruptured brain aneurysm is a sudden, severe headache that people often call the “worst headache of my life.” If you think someone is having a subarachnoid hemorrhage, dial 911 right away. Read about our stroke services.