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Brain aneurysm: How is it different from a stroke?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 21 September 2021

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Arteries are the large blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart and deliver it to different parts of the body, including the brain. However, when the wall of an artery in the brain gets weak, a bulge or balloon-like structure develops at the weakened region, which is medically known as a brain aneurysm. Though an aneurysm can occur anywhere within the brain, it is most commonly found where the blood vessels divide. This bulge in the artery contains blood, which can rupture and result in serious consequences.

What are the symptoms of a brain aneurysm?

The symptoms of a brain aneurysm can vary depending on whether the aneurysm is intact or ruptured. Mostly, people do not experience any symptoms until the aneurysm ruptures. An unruptured aneurysm shows symptoms when it gets large and presses against the nerves or tissues in the brain. The symptoms include:

  • Vision problems such as double vision, blurred vision or even vision loss
  • Pain around or above the eyes
  • Headache
  • Feeling numb and weak on one side of the face
  • Difficulty in speaking 
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of balance. 

The symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include: 

  • Sudden excruciating headache
  • Pain or stiffness in the neck, back or legs
  • Feeling sick
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Drowsiness 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion 
  • Seizure
  • Weakness in any limb or one side of the body.

The presence of these symptoms alone does not conclude an aneurysm. Therefore, one must consult a doctor for further investigation.

What causes brain aneurysms?

A brain aneurysm occurs when a part of an artery gets weak due to the lack of a muscle layer. Doctors do not know the exact reason for brain aneurysms yet. However, some risk factors may increase the risk of suffering from a brain aneurysm.

While continuous research is being done on finding the cause of the aneurysms, a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2019 stated that mutation (changes) in the platelet-derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFRB) gene may result in fusiform aneurysms, a type of brain aneurysm that causes ballooning or bulging of the blood vessel on all sides. 

Who is at risk of developing brain aneurysms?

Factors that may increase the risk of brain aneurysms include:

  • People aged 40 years and above
  • Family history of a brain aneurysm
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Smoking 
  • High blood pressure
  • Weak artery walls since birth
  • Suffering from polycystic kidney disease, congenital heart disease or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Atherosclerosis (fat build-up inside the blood vessel walls)
  • Overuse of medications such as amphetamine and cocaine
  • Blood infections
  • Traumatic brain injury. 

How is an aneurysm different from a stroke?

Both stroke and aneurysm affect the blood vessels but the difference between the two include:

  • Stroke affects the blood vessels of the brain while aneurysms can affect any part of the body, including the brain and heart.
  • A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or the blood supply to the brain gets blocked. However, an aneurysm occurs due to the weakening of an artery wall, which may or may not rupture. 
  • The cause of a stroke is either a blockage in an artery or an artery rupture, whereas the cause of an aneurysm is not known.

Can you prevent a brain aneurysm? 

One cannot prevent a brain aneurysm but can reduce the risk of developing the condition. Measures that may help prevent an aneurysm include:

  • Consuming a balanced diet containing plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Quitting smoking completely to maintain healthy blood flow through the vessels. 
  • Exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight and improve the health of the heart and blood vessels.
  • Reducing salt intake and measuring blood pressure frequently. Any significant change must be reported to the doctor. 
  • Reducing the alcohol intake to not more than 2 drinks a day.
  • Cutting down the caffeine intake to less than 400 milligrams a day.

Conclusion

Anyone can develop a brain aneurysm but it is more commonly seen in the age group of 35 to 60 years. The signs of a brain aneurysm can be similar to several other conditions. Therefore, people, especially the high-risk groups, experiencing any such symptoms must consult the doctor for further examination. Furthermore, people must consume a balanced diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, and get their blood pressure measured frequently to reduce the risk of developing a brain aneurysm. 

For any queries related to brain health, you can talk to a neurologist.

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