Aneurysms are abnormal outpouchings of blood vessels and come in a variety of forms and sizes. Most aneurysms of the arteries in the brain are pouch- or berry-shaped and vary in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter. Aneurysms are caused by structural changes resulting from weaknesses in the wall of the arteries of the brain and are particularly common at the junctions of arteries. Blood pressure causes these points of weakness to stretch and expand; a process that ultimately results in aneurysms and accounts for their propensity to gradually increase in size. Patients with aneurysms can be completely symptom-free for years or even decades as long as important brain structures and nerves – such as the optic nerve to the eyes – are not compressed by the aneurysm. In the worst case, the first symptoms can be those of a ruptured aneurysm.
A ruptured aneurysm leads to a severe and acutely life-threatening bleed on the brain and can occur during exercise or at rest. Symptoms of an aneurysmal bleed range from severe headache to paralysis and unconsciousness. In these cases it is imperative that patients are transferred to a specialist clinic where the aneurysm can be diagnosed and treated. Treating an aneurysm means sealing it off from its parent artery and this can be done either by applying a metal clip during a microsurgical operation (clipping – see image to the right) or, if there is no large haematoma and the size and shape of the aneurysm allows it, using a minimally invasive approach to insert metal coils into the aneurysm via a catheter inserted into the artery via a small incision in the groin or arm (coiling). Our department is prepared for such emergencies and our experienced team of neursurgeons, neuroradiologists, neurologists and intensive care specialists are available around the clock..
Unruptured aneurysms are diagnosed either as a result of symptoms, such as visual disturbance, stemming from irritation of structures around the aneurysm or by chance while investigating other problems using CT or MRI. In some cases, an MRI or CT will be performed because of a known family tendency to form aneurysms, for example in some cases of polycystic kidney disease.
In all cases of unruptured aneurysms the question of whether the aneurysm should be treated, and with which methods, must be considered. Aneurysms which, because of their size and compression of surrounding structures, cause significant symptoms should in most cases be treated. In cases in which aneurysms are detected by pure coincidence, the decision as to whether asymptomatic aneurysms should be treated is guided by calculations of the risk of rupture based on the size, position and shape of the aneurysm. In these cases, the age of the patient, their other illnesses and their individual risk profile plays an important role in the decision to treat or not.
The likelihood that a given aneurysm will rupture has been the subject of many scientific studies. The largest studies looking at the behavior of unruptured aneurysms are ISUIA (International Study of Unruptured Intracranial Aneurysms) and UCAS (Unruptured Cerebral Aneurysm Study) – a Japanese undertaking. In these studies, aneurysms from many thousands of patients were categorized based on their location and size and observed over a period of years. The result of the ISUIA and UCAS study, as well as the metaanalysis PHASES, which includes the ISUIA and UCAS data, are available in the ONLINE ANEURYSM RISK CALCULATOR. Here you can input the size and location of an aneurysm to calculate the probability that a similar aneurysm in these studies would rupture at some point in a given number of years. In individual cases, the chances of an aneurysm rupturing can be many times greater and is dependent upon a number of factors such as the precise anatomy of the aneurysm and accompanying risk factors. The risk of an aneurysm rupturing can therefore only be safely estimated in an individual consultation – this is particularly true of aneurysms which have been shown to change in size or shape on serial MRI or CT scans.
The decision as to whether an aneurysm should be treated in order to prevent a possible bleed in the future is dependent on many factors and must be carefully determined in each individual case. The risk of a rupture has to be balanced against the risks inherent in treatment and, as such, personal circumstances and considerations play as much a role in making this decision as any purely analytical risk calculation.
The treatment of an aneurysm is, as mentioned previously, performed either by applying a metal clip over the neck of the aneurysm during a microsurgical procedure or through the use of metal coils inserted via an intravascular catheter. In each case, a recommended technique will be offered after comprehensive discussion between our experienced neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists, with due consideration given to the location, size and form of the aneurysm as well as a number of accompanying risk factors. Whether ‘coiling’ or ‘clipping’ is advised, our hospital is equipped with the most modern equipment to treat your aneurysm. If microsurgical clipping is indicated, a 3D simulation of the exact architecture of the aneurysm will be carried out prior to the operation, allowing to plan precisely how best to expose and then definitively clip the aneurysm. During the operation, the positioning of the clip is controlled endoscopically and the arrested blood flow in the aneurysm, as well as normal flow in the nearby vessels, confirmed with fluroescent contrast medium and Doppler ultrasound..