March 26, 2023
Aneurysms have been rightfully called “silent killers,” as many times, people do not realize they have one until it’s too late. The worldwide health burden posed by aneurysms is immense, with nearly half a million people around the globe dying of a brain aneurysm annually and another 150,000 to 200,000 people succumbing each year to aortic aneurysms.
An aneurysm is a ballooning of the wall of a blood vessel, most commonly in the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the lungs out to the tissues of your body, or in one of the blood vessels in the brain. Aneurysms can also occur in the artery behind the knee (popliteal aneurysm), in the intestine, and even the spleen. As long as the aneurysm does not burst and is not pressing on an adjacent structure that would cause symptoms, you are unlikely to realize you have one. A ruptured aneurysm can cause internal bleeding, a stroke, and can be fatal if not caught in time.
What can you do to prevent this silent killer from wreaking havoc with your health?
The number one thing you can do to prevent an aneurysm is to keep your blood pressure under control. Chronically high blood pressure can damage the lining of the walls of your blood vessels, causing inflammation in the area with a weakening of the wall. Eventually the wall may balloon out, forming an aneurysm.
To prevent high blood pressure and to keep your blood vessels as healthy as possible you should get regular exercise, eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet, watch your weight and if you smoke, stop. If you cannot stop smoking on your own, ask your health care provider for help. Of course, you should get regular health checkups to make sure your blood pressure is in a healthy range.
Recreational drugs should be avoided. Cocaine use damages blood vessels. In fact, research has shown that users who experienced a type of brain bleed known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage that is most often caused by an aneurysm are less likely to survive than non-drug users.
There is also evidence that if you have a family history with a first-degree relative (mother, father, sister or brother) who has an aneurysm, you have an increased risk of developing one yourself. If this is the case for you, talk to your physician for a complete physical exam and screeningScreening tests, if your physician feels they are indicated, could include an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan, a CT scan of your brain or even an angiogram, in which dye is inserted into a blood vessel in your arm or leg. The dye travels to your brain and imaging studies can show an aneurysm if one is present.
If you have sleep apnea you need to be especially vigilant, as this condition has been linked to the worsening of aortic aneurysms as well as poor outcomes in those people who have brain aneurysms. If you snore or always seem to wake up tired, see your doctor for a sleep study, as sleep apnea can be treated.
You should also take measures to reduce and control stress in your life. Under stress your body releases several hormones that cause your blood pressure, your heart rate and your rate of breathing to increase. Stress can also lead to an increased chance of indulging in unhealthy behaviors such as excessive alcohol use, eating poorly and not exercising. All these can lead to the risk of high blood pressure, weight gain and subsequent damage to blood vessels. Meditation, regular exercise, participating in an engaging hobby, and regular social contact with friends and family can help to reduce stress in your life and keep you healthy.
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