An aneurysm is something a lot people have heard of but aren’t certain of the exacts. Many believe that, if you have one, it’s really bad — almost akin to having a stroke. But, what if that wasn’t true? What if simply having an aneurysm was something that you could live with by making lifestyle choices or get fixed with surgery? What if millions of Americans already do just that?
Aneurysms certainly can be bad news, but it’s important to demystify the things that scare us most, which is why we’re taking time to help you understand the facts on the dangers and options associated with living with or fixing aneurysms.
First and foremost, we should discuss what exactly aneurysms are. Aneurysms are a weakening or bulging of a blood vessel by 50 percent or more. They’re also pretty common, with as many as one in 50 Americans living with an unruptured brain aneurysm, which is only one type of aneurysm.
Besides brain aneurysms (also called cerebral aneurysms), there are two types of aortic aneurysms that differ based on where they’re located in the body. Thoracic aortic aneurysms develop in the part of the aorta that passes through the chest, whereas abdominal aortic aneurysms occur anywhere else in the abdomen. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the most common type of aortic aneurysm. These can be further categorized by the shape of the aneurysm or how the ballooning occurs.
The exact cause of an aneurysm may not be entirely clear, partially because it can be the result of several different things. For example, at least 20 percent of aneurysms are estimated to be the result of an inherited conditions, ranging from Marfan syndrome to osteogenesis imperfecta. Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk of developing an aneurysm, especially smoking, which has a strong association with both aortic aneurysms and cerebral aneurysms. High blood pressure can also be a risk factor in aneurysms, as a higher blood pressure can weaken the blood vessel over time. These are only a few of the notable possible causes of aneurysms, though. Even a fully healthy, non-smoking person with normal blood pressure can develop one!
Aneurysms can commonly appear without symptoms, meaning you may not know they’re there unless they’re caught by your doctor or they rupture. It’s not uncommon for them to be caught during a scan for another condition. That said, symptoms can present, and they may differ based on the aneurysm’s location.
A brain aneurysm can have more visual symptoms, like blurry or double vision, difficulty seeing, or eye pain. They may also lead to cerebral issues, like headaches, dizziness, or even seizures. Both types of aortic aneurysms can present as back pain, though thoracic aortic aneurysms can also have symptoms like chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and hoarseness. Abdominal aortic aneurysms can cause pain around the naval or on the side of your abdomen. Someone usually experiences more symptoms when their aneurysm ruptures.
The weakness in the blood vessel from the aneurysm can eventually lead to a rupture, which is where the real risk of aneurysms lie. Think of blood vessels and aneurysms like a hose. If there’s a weakness (the aneurysm) in the line, there’s a chance it could break open, leaking the fluid — in this case, blood. The aneurysm has now become a medical emergency. While the severity and symptoms of the rupture can vary based on where the aneurysm is, all can be dangerous.
All three main types of aneurysms will cause intense pain and a drop in blood pressure when there’s a rupture, with symptoms appearing suddenly. You could also likely experience heightened forms of the unruptured aneurysm symptoms. For ruptured brain aneurysms, you may experience:
These symptoms may sound familiar, and that’s because a ruptured brain aneurysm is what causes a hemorrhagic stroke. Similarly, an aneurysm can also lead to an aortic dissection, a dangerous medical emergency that can lead to organ damage and even death. Regardless of what type of aneurysm rupture you’re experiencing, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Getting emergency medical attention as soon as possible can mean the difference between life and death.
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An aneurysm is often spoken of in hushed terms. While aneurysms can be dangerous, having one itself isn’t a death sentence. Many people live with aneurysms and never know!