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Brain Aneurysm: Treatment & Recovery

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson will discuss details regarding a brain aneurysm. We will describe the details of treatment and recovery for both an unruptured and ruptured aneurysm.

Brain Aneurysm

Balloons are often a part of celebrations, used to wish someone well or decorate a room. They are rarely seen as a bad thing. That is, until a balloon forms off of one of the blood vessels in the brain. The ballooning of a blood vessel in the brain is known as a brain aneurysm.

A brain aneurysm is like balloon on a blood vessel in the brain
Diagram showing a brain aneurysm

Rather than being full of air, this balloon is full of blood. Do you know what happens when you keep adding air to a balloon after it's full? It bursts! The same thing can happen with an aneurysm. It will eventually burst or rupture once the balloon cannot stretch anymore. We call this a ruptured aneurysm. Unlike a ruptured party balloon, a ruptured aneurysm in the brain is a huge problem. The rupture will cause bleeding on the brain, which damages and/or kills brain tissue. This is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.

A hemorrhagic stroke can happen if a brain aneurysm ruptures
Diagram of a hemorrhagic stroke

You already know that strokes are serious. So, we need to know how to treat an aneurysm so that it doesn't cost us our lives. We also need to know what the recovery looks like.

Treatment

The treatment for a brain aneurysm differs based upon whether it has ruptured or not. If it hasn't ruptured, the goal of treatment is to prevent it from rupturing. The best way to prevent an aneurysm from rupturing is to treat whatever is most likely causing the aneurysm in the first place. For a vast majority of people, that is high blood pressure. High blood pressure medications may be given to help reduce the pressure in the blood vessels. Other things that help reduce high blood pressure will also be part of the treatment. These include adopting a high fiber/low fat and sodium diet, not smoking cigarettes, and exercising.

Surgical options are also available for treating an aneurysm. They are usually only used for treating a ruptured aneurysm, but can be used for treating an unruptured aneurysm in extreme cases. The first surgery is surgical clipping or clamping. A physician opens up the skull to access the part of the brain where the aneurysm is and puts a clip or clamp at the base of the aneurysm to keep more blood from flowing in.

Endovascular coiling forms a blood clot to stop aneurysms from bleeding
X-ray of endovascular coiling

Another possible surgical treatment is endovascular coiling. This procedure involves inserting a catheter into the groin and threading it to the brain, where a wire inside the catheter will be coiled to cause the blood in the blood vessel to clot. The blood clot stops the bleeding from a ruptured aneurysm or prevents blood from getting into an unruptured aneurysm (similar to how a scab stops bleeding on a cut on the skin).

Medications for the symptoms that accompany an aneurysm may also be given. These don't actually treat the aneurysm, but they make someone more comfortable while dealing with the ramifications of an aneurysm. Examples include pain relievers for headaches and anti-seizure medications.

Recovery

Beyond directly treating an aneurysm and its symptoms, treatments exist to help with recovery. The recovery from an aneurysm differs for everyone and depends upon whether it ruptured or not, how well the treatments are followed, how much damage is done from a ruptured aneurysm, and the location of the aneurysm. The recovery could be as short as a few months or may last for years if the aneurysm has ruptured. It's also possible that a person may not recover much and may be permanently disabled.

The recovery will include taking prescribed medications. Some medications (like those for high blood pressure) may need to be taken for life. Recovery will also likely include physical, speech, and occupational therapy. This will definitely be a part of recovery in instances where the aneurysm has ruptured. Physical therapy is a set of exercises to make the muscles strong again. Speech therapy helps someone relearn how to speak. This will be necessary if the parts of the brain that perform speech are damaged. Occupational therapy is a set of activities that help with learning how to do daily activities such as bathing, eating, and cooking.

Lesson Summary

The ballooning of a blood vessel in the brain is known as a brain aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm is when the ballooned part of a blood vessel bursts. The rupture causes bleeding on the brain that damages and/or kills brain tissue, which is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.

Treatment for an unruptured aneurysm includes:

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