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Six percent of the U.S. population will develop a cerebral aneurysm.*

*Source: Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery

Cerebral Aneurysm Overview

A  cerebral aneurysm  is a weak or thin spot on a blood vessel in the brain that balloons out and fills with blood. Also known as a brain or intercranial aneurysm, a cerebral aneurysm can press on a nerve or surrounding tissue and can leak or burst, causing bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic  stroke). A normal artery wall is made up of three layers. In an aneurysm the wall is weakened due to the loss of a muscular layer. Aneurysms can develop in arteries anywhere in the brain.

WellStar neurologists and neurosurgeons are expert in identifying and treating brain aneurysms.

There are three types of cerebral aneurysms:

  • A saccular (“berry”) aneurysm looks like a berry with a narrow stem. More than one aneurysm may be present. More than 90 percent of aneurysms are this type.
  • A fusiform aneurysm bulges out on all sides.
  • A dissecting aneurysm is the result of a tear along the length of the artery in the inner layer of the artery wall. Leakage of blood between the layers of the wall may cause ballooning or it may block blood flow through the artery. This type of aneurysm is usually the result of a traumatic injury.

Three to five million people in the United States have cerebral aneurysms, but most produce no symptoms. Aneurysms typically develop after age 40, enlarging slowly and becoming weaker as they grow, much as a balloon stretches over time.

Experts have not determined the reasons for weakening in the walls of an artery. Generally, cerebral aneurysms are associated with certain locations in the brain where pressure is higher and with factors linking high blood pressure and smoking.

A ruptured aneurysm can quickly become life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.

Most aneurysms do not rupture, but still cause symptoms and health problems. In some cases an un-ruptured aneurysm may bleed, depending on the size, shape and location. Brain damage can result.

Aneurysms sometimes run in families, but people are not usually born with a predisposition to them. Some aneurysms are the result of infections, use of drugs like amphetamines and cocaine that damage the blood vessels of the brain, or accident-related brain trauma.



When an aneurysm ruptures (subarachnoid  hemorrhage) people complain of an intense (“worst of my life”) headache. Symptoms can also include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck or neck pain
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Pain above and behind the eye
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Loss of sensation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Back or leg pain
  • Problems with the eyes, nose, tongue and/or ears that are controlled by one or more cranial nerves
  • Coma
  • Death

Symptoms of an unruptured cerebral aneurysm can include:

  • Headache (though not common)
  • Eye pain
  • Problems with eye movement or sight
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the face
  • Problems with speech or perception
  • Memory difficulty
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Fatigue

If you or someone you are with experiences a sudden, severe headache, loses consciousness or has a seizure, emergency medical assistance is required.

Risk Factors

The formation of aneurysms in the brain is associated with a variety of inherited risk factors including (but not limited to):

  • Smoking
  • Congenital abnormality in artery wall
  • Family history of brain aneurysms
  • Being over age 40
  • Being a woman
  • Reduced (post-menopause) estrogen level
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol
  • A variety of disorders present from birth including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Polycystic Kidney Disease, Marfan Syndrome and Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD)
  • Presence of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
  • Drug use, particularly cocaine
  • Infection
  • Tumors
  • Traumatic head injury