Incidentally discovered aneurysm in the brain. Now what do I do?

One of the readers of my blog wrote in to me. Her question and my response to it follows.

Hello Doctor,

I am a 27 year old otherwise healthy female. I work as a nurse and I recently got an MRI MRA due to some mild dizziness I was experiencing at work. I was shocked to learn that I have a 3mm aneurysm arising from the anterior aspect of the supracliniod portion of the left internal carotid artery consistent with ophthalmic artery aneurysm. I would greatly appreciate any advice/opinions you could provide….thanks so much.

Dear E,

                              Thank you for writing in to me.  Aneurysms in the brain are at times (actually quite frequently) discovered incidentally. The usual setting is that the patient seeks medical attention for some non-specific complaints commonly headache or like in your case dizziness. The doctor orders a MRI of the brain and the “silent” aneurysm comes to medical attention for the first time.

The majority of small sized aneurysms are clinically silent. By that I mean they cause no pain , headache, weakness in the arms or legs.  A small sized aneurysm may remain clinically silent and only come to medical attention when it ruptures and causes bleeding into the brain. Aneurysmal bleed usually causes subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). The SAH may be massive and carries a high morbidity and mortality rate. Survivors are usually left behind with significant neurological deficits (disabilities).

It is usually a giant aneurysm (defined as one greater than 2.5 cm in diameter)  that causes mass effect and hence may present clinically with weakness if it presses on the motor tracts in the brain or with problems with vision (decrease in visual acuity or double vision) if it press on the optic or other nerves with control the movements of the eye.

Now what to do when an aneurysm is discovered incidentally as in your case? Though I have not examined you, it is more than likely that the aneurysm is not the cause of your mild dizziness. The risk of an aneurysm to rupture has been studied  and the results are mixed. Since any aneurysm no matter what the size has the potential to rupture, every patient needs to be assessed on an individual basis for this.  Studies have shown that small aneurysms can be “safety” watched. The usual cut-off size is about 7 mm, though there is a debate whether aneurysms smaller than 7 mm in size carry a lower risk for rupture. It is well accepted that aneurysms greater than 25mm in size should be considered for therapy (there are different ways aneurysms can be treated—surgical treatment Vs endovascular treatment Vs a combination of the two) after closely weighing the potential risks of the surgery against the benefits (how likely is the aneurysm to rupture in the near future).

So my advise to you is to follow up with your physician.  After reviewing your MRI brain and other studies such as MRA (magnetic resonance angiography), he shall determine the best approach going forward. If he decides to wait and watch, then likely you shall need serial MRI studies at some interval of time (every 3 months Vs every 6 months Vs every year). Again there is no hard and fixed rule about how frequently you shall need to be scanned, this too shall be determined by your physician.

If you have high blood pressure, it shall be wise to maintain good blood pressure control.

I hope I have been able to shed some light on your query. Please feel free to write in again.

Personal Regards,

Nitin Sethi, MD

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5 thoughts on “Incidentally discovered aneurysm in the brain. Now what do I do?

  1. I am a 55 yr old RN who has also just found out through MRI/MRA followed by cerebral angiogram to have a 3mm x 2mm ophthalmic artery aneurysm and trying to decide what treatment course to follow. I was experiencing headaches which apparently have nothing to do with the aneurysm. I am currently waiting for an appointment for a second opinion at a larger medical center since the hospital I work at performs less than 2 dozen coilings a year. Good luck to you.

    1. Did you treta your aneurysm. I just found out that Many surgeons do recommend to treat even small aneurysm.
      Let me know what you decided, I have 3 one 6mm and 2 3mm and one doctor told me that he doesn’t do before 5mm so I will get a second opinion.
      I live In Austin

  2. I also am a 33 year old perfectly healthy RN, incidently had a MRI also and they found a 4mm right m1 section of Mca aneurysm. They are doing yearly MRI to watch the growth but in the meantime they said just live my life )

    1. Dear Anne,
      as I stated in my post, sometimes just following an incidentally detected aneurysm with serial MRI’s/MRA’s is the best course. Make sure you remain in close follow up with your MD. Good luck.

      Nitin K Sethi, MD

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