- There aren’t usually warning signs before an aneurysm ruptures.
- An estimated 50% to 80% of aneurysms never rupture, but when they do, they are very dangerous and are accompanied by extreme pain in the head, chest, or abdomen.
- Knowing your risk factors for an aneurysm can help catch it before it ruptures – these include high blood pressure, frequent smoking, or genetics.
- This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If your artery walls weaken and balloon, you are experiencing an aneurysm. This widening of blood vessels typically happens in the brain (cerebral aneurysm), the abdomen (abdominal aortic aneurysm), or the chest (thoracic aortic aneurysm).
An aneurysm is dangerous if it ruptures. About 40% of ruptured brain aneurysms and roughly 50% of ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms are fatal. And about 66% of those who survive a ruptured brain aneurysm will have some permanent neurological deficit.
However, it is common for people to live with aneurysms, and an estimated 50% to 80% of aneurysms never rupture. Here’s what you need to know about the warning signs of an aneurysm and what you can do to catch it before it ruptures.
There aren’t always warning signs before an aneurysm
If you have an aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured, you often won’t experience symptoms. However, if the aneurysm ruptures, it often comes with pain at the location of the rupture. This could take the form of an extreme headache, chest pain, or abdominal pain.
A brain aneurysm may come with symptoms like sudden dizziness, blurred vision, and seizures. Some may feel nauseous, vomit, become confused, or have a drooping eyelid (further symptoms of a stroke are also possible). Typically, these symptoms are sudden and require immediate emergency care.
In some cases, you might get warning signs because a large aneurysm is pressing on a nerve, like changes in your vision or a headache, according to George P. Teitelbaum, MD, an interventional neuroradiologist and director of the Stroke & Aneurysm Centre at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre.
“You’re fortunate if those symptoms occur,” Teitelbaum says. “Most occur without any symptoms. The first sign that most people have is … when they rupture.”
Know your risk factors for an aneurysm
However, there are a variety of risk factors you should be aware of to catch an aneurysm early on. These include:
- Age and sex. Ruptures for cerebral aneurysms most often occur between the age of 30 and 60. Sex also plays a role, with women experiencing an increased risk of a ruptured aneurysm in the brain. Men over the age of 60 are more likely to experience aortic abdominal aneurysms.
- Genetics. Some aneurysms are congenital, which means you are born with a weak spot in a blood vessel. This is one of the most common causes of cerebral aneurysms, says Teitelbaum.
- Family history. In rare cases, families may have a predisposition towards the weakening of blood vessel walls. So, if you are evaluated for a ruptured or unruptured aneurysm and also have a family member with the same condition, Teitelbaum says it’s advised to have children evaluated as well.
- High blood pressure.Hypertension can cause the widening and weakening of blood vessels and is associated with increased risk of ruptured aneurysms. Teitelbaum says that taking prescribed medications, following sodium intake recommendations, and watching your weight can all lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of rupture.
- Atherosclerosis. Often related to high cholesterol, this condition results in plaque building up on the walls of arteries. Atherosclerosis is one of the most common causes of thoracic aortic aneurysms, according to the American Heart Association.
- Smoking. “Smoking is another well-known risk factor, increasing the risk of an aneurysm rupturing,” Teitelbaum says. About 75% of abdominal aneurysms are linked to a history of smoking.
If you think you may be at high risk, talk with your doctor about if you have an aneurysm and the best ways to prevent one from rupturing. If you experience the symptoms of an aneurysm and have one or more of these risk factors, seek medical attention immediately.
Related stories about heart health:
- The difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest
- How to get rid of blood clots and reduce your future risk
- How hypertension, heart disease, and stroke are related
- What causes high blood pressure and how to know if you have hypertension
- How to lower blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet and exercise
- How to lower cholesterol with the right diet and exercise regimens
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