Brain Aneurysm Causes and Treatment

John Nerva, MD, neurosurgeon, explains what a brain aneurysm is and who is at risk of having a brain aneurysm. Dr. Nerva also discusses aneurysm monitoring and treating brain aneurysms, as well as the benefits of being treated at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Neuroscience Center.

Swelling in a blood vessel of the brain is called an aneurysm. It may have no symptoms and is usually diagnosed when doctors are testing for an unrelated condition. Aneurysms can rupture with little or no warning and, if that happens, it's life-threatening and requires emergency medical attention.

What Is a Brain Aneurysm

A brain aneurysm is an abnormal bulge that typically forms on a weak point on an artery in the brain.

Who Is at Risk for an Aneurysm

Aneurysm is more common with age, and they're more common in women. Patients with different risk factors — such as cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol use, high cholesterol, high blood pressure — can have a higher risk of developing aneurysms. Aneurysms can also run in families. So in patients who have multiple family members with aneurysms, we will recommend screening.

Aneurysm Treatment Options

For certain patients, monitoring with imaging over time to closely follow the aneurysm is appropriate. For other patients, treatment is offered, and that can come in the form of surgery. The goal of surgical treatment is to prevent blood flow from getting to the aneurysm to prevent a rupture. And the treatment can come in two different general types of categories, including microsurgical clipping and endovascular embolization.

Is there a difference in where a person receives care?

There is a difference. Patients who are treated at high-volume, comprehensive stroke centers and an academic health network such as ours tend to have better outcomes after aneurism surgery than other centers.