What is an Unruptured Aneurysm?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 February 2019
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An unruptured aneurysm is a section of a blood vessel that bulges outward but has not yet broken. Aneurysms can occur in many different places in the body due to several possible causes. The most common sites for an unruptured aneurysm are the arteries in the brain and the largest artery in the chest and abdomen called the aorta. High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and alcohol and tobacco use all increase the risk of developing an aneurysm. Some small bulges can be resolved with medications to treat the underlying causes, but an especially large aneurysm may need to be treated surgically before it ruptures and causes life-threatening bleeding complications.

A person of any age can develop an unruptured aneurysm, though middle-aged and elderly people who lead unhealthy lifestyles are at the highest risk. Smoking, drinking, and making poor dietary and exercise choices raises the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol buildup, called atherosclerosis. Excess cholesterol in the blood attaches to the walls of arteries and hardens into place, narrowing the passageway for blood. When blood pressure increases, the compromised walls give way and balloon outward. Some aneurysms also result from congenital blood vessel deformities, complications of diabetes, and indeterminable causes.


Most small unruptured aneurysms do not cause noticeable physical symptoms. A large bulge in the brain may put pressure on surrounding nerves and other tissues, which can cause headaches, distorted vision, and numbness or paralysis on one side of the face. Unruptured aneurysms elsewhere in the body may cause throbbing, radiating pain. Occasionally, an aneurysm in the aorta can cause blood to back up into the heart and possibly induce heart failure.

Patients who know they are at risk of aneurysms or exhibit possible symptoms should schedule evaluations with their doctors. A physician can check for an unruptured aneurysm with imaging tests such as ultrasounds and computerized tomography scans. Imaging scans are usually effective in detecting unusual bulges and differentiating them from other abnormalities, such as tumors. Blood tests are usually performed as well to look for signs of atherosclerosis and diabetes.

An individual with a small unruptured aneurysm is typically instructed to make healthier lifestyle decisions and schedule regular checkups to track changes in the bulge. Medications to control blood pressure and relieve cholesterol buildup may be prescribed as well. If a doctor suspects that an aneurysm is close to rupturing, he or she might decide to conduct preventive surgery. A metal or plastic stent can be inserted into an artery to hep it keep its shape and promote better blood flow. Bypass surgery may also be considered if a rupture is very likely.



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