What to do if your family history includes brain aneurysm

The condition that led to the hospitalization of music mogul Dr. Dre is not uncommon, and a D.C.-area neurologist has advice on what to do if you are susceptible to a ruptured brain aneurysm.

As of Monday, Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, remained in intensive care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm last week.

Each year, about 1 in 50 Americans — roughly 6.5 million people total — have brain aneurysms that have not ruptured. About 30,000 people a year suffer ruptured brain aneurysms, and about 15% of them die before reaching the hospital.

“If you have a family history of an aneurysm, the most important thing you can do is keep your blood pressure in good check, make sure you exercise regularly, make sure you don’t get overweight and decrease your alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Ejaz A. Shamim, chief of neurology and chair of the Neuroscience Institute at Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States.

“Prevention is the key,” he said.

If you have a strong family history, such as a parent, grandparent or sibling who have had bad outcomes from aneurysms, you should get evaluated. There are two routine imaging tests your doctor can order: a CT angiogram or a magnetic resonance (MR) angiogram.

The scans can reveal even small aneurysms that have no symptoms.

“But when they become large, they tend to rupture, and when you get the symptoms … many times, it’s too late,” Shamim said.

Symptoms include vision issues; a drooping eye-lid; confusion; a sudden, severe headache; and loss of consciousness.

So what exactly is an aneurysm? They begin where arteries branch off the vessel. If such areas of the circulatory system are weak, little bubbles develop.

“They basically get enlarged and balloon-like structures form, and they can rupture,” Shamim said. “And these balloon-like structures are called aneurysms.”

Women have about 1.5-times higher risk of having an aneurysm rupture. If you’re Black or Hispanic, it’s about twice as likely to happen.

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