A brain aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel in the brain. It often looks like a berry hanging on a stem. A brain aneurysm can leak or rupture, causing bleeding into the brain. Most often a ruptured brain aneurysm occurs in the space between the brain and the thin tissues covering the brain. This type of hemorrhagic stroke is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. A ruptured aneurysm quickly becomes life-threatening and requires immediate medical treatment. Most brain aneurysms don't rupture, create health problems or cause symptoms. Such aneurysms are often detected during tests for other conditions. Here are the most common symptoms and much more about aneurysms.
A brain aneurysm rarely causes any symptoms unless it bursts. Unruptured brain aneurysms occasionally cause symptoms if they're large or press against tissues or nerves inside the brain. Symptoms of an unruptured brain aneurysm can include:
- visual disturbances such as loss of vision or double vision
- pain above or around your eye
- numbness or weakness on one side of your face
- difficulty speaking
- difficulty concentrating or problems with short-term memory
You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms. Although most aneurysms won't rupture, it's important to get it checked in case treatment is necessary.
Ruptured brain aneurysm
Symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm usually begin with a sudden agonizing headache. Other symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm also tend to come on suddenly and may include:
- feeling or being sick
- stiff neck or neck pain
- blurred or double vision
- sudden confusion
- loss of consciousness
- weakness on one side of the body, or on any limbs
- The absolute worst headaches of your life - Most ruptured aneurysm survivors report experiencing the worst headache of their lives. So if you experience a very sudden and intense headache, where one minute you’re fine and the next minute you’re in extreme pain, that’s often the first sign of a rupture. This pain occurs because most aneurysms are in the subarachnoid, or a small, enclosed space just outside the brain, and when they burst, they flood that space with blood. The quick change in pressure is what you feel as a skull-splitting headache coming out of nowhere. The subarachnoid space has lots of nerve endings, so people start to experience very intense pain. This headache can be constant or ebb and flow as each rupture is different.
- Nausea and vomiting - As the subarachnoid space fills with blood from a ruptured aneurysm, it starts to push the brain down to a point in your skull called the foramen magnum, where your spinal cord and brain stem originate. This pressures the brain stem, an area that controls digestion and breathing can result in you feeling dizzy, nauseated, and vomiting.
Brain aneurysms usually develop as people age, becoming more common after the age of 40. It’s also possible to have a blood vessel defect at birth. Women tend to have higher rates of aneurysms than men. Aneurysms tend to form at the fork of blood vessels, places where they branch off, because those sections tend to be weaker. They are most commonly found in the base of the brain.
Brain aneurysms are most of the time detected after they've ruptured and become medical emergencies. However, a brain aneurysm may be detected when you've undergone head-imaging tests for another condition. If such test results indicate you have a brain aneurysm, you'll need to discuss the results with a specialist in brain and nervous system disorders.