What Are the Symptoms of an Aneurysm, and How Is the Condition Diagnosed?
How Exactly Are Aneurysms Usually Diagnosed?
There are several screening and diagnostic tools doctors use to detect aneurysms. Here’s a detailed look:
Computerized Tomography Scan
Doctors discover many aortic aneurysms after administering a computerized tomography (CT) scan for some other reason. (6)
A CT scan is a painless test that uses contrast dye injected into a vein in the arm and X-rays to get clear pictures of the aorta or brain. (7)
A small brain bleed, known as a sentinel hemorrhage, may not be detected on a CT scan, so if it’s suspected, the doctor may perform a spinal tap. But a CT scan will pick up a large brain bleed, known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, Dr. Teitelbaum says.
Between 3 and 14 days after a brain hemorrhage, the blood vessels can start to spasm (vasospasm), which affects up to 70 percent of people with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. (8) A CT scan can help doctors predict if the patient is likely to have a vasospasm.
More on Imaging Tests
Although it’s not entirely understood what causes it, one theory is that hemoglobin acts as a trap for nitric oxide from the blood vessel wall, which prevents the blood vessels from dilating and causes spasms, Teitelbaum says. A vasospasm can lead to a neurologic deficit, a type of early stroke, or seizures.
Once a brain aneurysm is detected, an ultrasound will be performed each day to look at the rate, or velocity, of blood flow in the blood vessels. If the velocity increases more than a mean 100 centimeters per second, the blood vessels can narrow. “It’s important to obtain this test every morning to get an idea of what the trend is,” Teitelbaum says.
Computed Tomography (CT) Angiography
CT angiography (angiogram) is a diagnostic screening tool that uses contrast dye and radiation to look at blood vessels and arteries. A CT angiogram may be performed if a CT scan is unable to detect a brain aneurysm that is suspected, Dr. Brown says.
“For both an abdominal and a thoracic aortic aneurysm, a CT angiogram is very useful in giving precise information about what other branches it involves, more precise measurement of its extent and diameter, and also whether the aneurysm has a clot within it,” Teitelbaum says.
An ultrasound is a painless, noninvasive screening tool that uses a wand and sound waves to look at the inside of the body to detect an abdominal aneurysm. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the easiest type to identify and follow, Brown says.
If an aneurysm smaller than 5.5 centimeters in diameter is found, it should be followed for 6 to 12 months to make sure it doesn’t grow, Teitelbaum says.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI, which uses magnets and radio waves to create photos of the organs and internal structures (7), may be used to gather additional information about the size, shape, and content of a brain aneurysm, such as a blood clot.
Video: Are you at Risk for a Ruptured Brain Aneurysm?
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