What You Should Know About Cerebral Aneurysm
A brain or cerebral aneurysm is a small, weak-walled area or bulge in one of the large blood
vessels that supply the brain. These bulges can break and bleed into the brain or the spaces
around the brain. They often occur after the age of 40 and vary in shape, size, and location.
The exact cause is not always known. Causes may include:
ξ High blood pressure
ξ Head injury
ξ Drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine
ξ Genetic (can be present at birth)
Signs and Symptoms
Most people have no signs or symptoms until an aneurysm ruptures. Some may complain of
headaches, tiredness, and/or neck pain. Signs and symptoms also depend on where and how big
it is. At the time of the rupture or bleeding, people may have an intense headache described as
“the worst headache of my life.”
Other signs and symptoms include:
ξ vision problems
ξ nausea and vomiting
ξ stiff neck
ξ sensitive to light
ξ more tired than usual
ξ trouble staying awake
ξ numbness or weakness on one side of the body
Here is a list of tests that might be needed.
ξ Carotid and vertebral angiography: can show an aneurysm before rupture
ξ CT scan of the head: confirms the presence of blood within the brain or brain spaces
ξ Spinal tap: sometimes used to see if there is blood in the spinal fluid
ξ Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA):
show blood vessels, looking for aneurysms or abnormalities
ξ Transcranial dopplers or TCDs: ultrasound of the skull to check for spasms in the
blood vessels in the brain.
If After an Aneurysm Ruptures
Blood leaks out into the space around the brain after an aneurysm ruptures. The doctors and
nurses may refer to this as a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). Blood can also leak into the brain
itself and cause a hemorrhagic stroke. When an aneurysm bleeds, there is a greater chance of
bleeding in the future.
The effects of a ruptured aneurysm depend on the size and place. It also depends on a person’s
age, overall health, and neurologic health. In general, there is a 30-40% chance of death and a
20-30% chance of moderate to severe brain damage, even if treated. About 15-30% of patients
have only mild damage or almost none.
ξ Cerebral vasospasms are spasms of the brain’s blood vessels due to irritation by blood
outside the blood vessel. Spasms causes blood vessels to tighten or narrow, leading to
less blood flow to the brain. Spasms usually occur within the first 14 days after the
ξ Re-bleeding can occur if an aneurysm is left untreated. It can also occur after surgery.
ξ Hydrocephalus happens when cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) cannot drain from the brain as
Precautions until a ruptured aneurysm is fixed
ξ Keep quiet and calm.
ξ Limit excitement such as visitors or strenuous activity.
ξ Keep rooms dimly lit.
ξ Avoid straining to have a bowel movement. Avoid constipation.
ξ Stay well hydrated. This will help improve blood flow to the brain and decrease the
chance of blood vessel spasms.
ξ Avoid strenuous coughing. Deep breathing is ok. Keep the head of the bed up to
promote easier breathing and decrease the chance of blood clots in the lungs.
ξ Eat healthy foods. This helps in the healing process.
ξ Avoid caffeine. It dehydrates and stimulates your brain and body.
ξ Blood pressure control if you have high blood pressure.
There are options for treatment. An option that is best for one person might not be the best for
someone else. The team will help you make the best choice for you or your loved one. The
length of time you stay in the hospital depends on the treatment you need and how you recover.
Some people need to stay for days or even weeks.
ξ Aneurysm coiling: platinum coils are placed into the aneurysm using an x-ray to see the
vessels. The coils act as a barrier to blood flow and seal it off.
ξ Surgery: to clip the aneurysm to stop blood flow to the weak or bulging area.
ξ Bedrest: along with IV fluids and drugs to maintain good blood flow to the brain.
When to Call the Doctor after Going Home
ξ Trouble speaking
ξ Neck stiffness (increased)
ξ Loss of balance and dizziness
ξ Increased headache
ξ Increased sensitivity to light
ξ Signs of infection, redness, swelling,
drainage near the surgical site, or
ξ Increased amounts of urine
ξ Confusion or inappropriate behaviors
What You Should Know About Cerebral Aneurysms www.americanheart.org (Use
search words “cerebral aneurysm”)
www.strokeassociation.org (Use search words “cerebral aneurysm”)
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call
if you have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with
your doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical
condition. Because each person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on
your health care team when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©
6/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the
Department of Nursing. HF#6171