A brain (intracranial) aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel in the brain.

Most people with brain aneurysms do not have close family members with this condition. But a landmark study found that 1 in 5 people with a brain aneurysm has a family history of them. Additional risk factors noted in the study were:

  • having a first-degree relative (parent, full sibling, or child) with a brain aneurysm
  • being genetically female
  • being over 30 years old
  • a history of smoking
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)

Most aneurysms are small and will not rupture. Since most aneurysms don’t have any symptoms until they leak or rupture, you can have a brain aneurysm and not know it.

Unruptured aneurysms can sometimes press on brain tissues and nerves, causing symptoms like:

  • pain behind or above one eye
  • one dilated pupil
  • vision changes, like double vision
  • numbness on one side of the face

Ruptured or leaking aneurysms typically cause a sudden, severe headache. The headache may occur along with a stiff neck and sensitivity to light.

A ruptured aneurysm is a life threatening medical emergency. Around 30,000 people in the United States have a ruptured aneurysm annually. Around half of those do not survive. For those who do, complications can include stroke and other disabilities.

About 3.2 percent of people worldwide have a brain aneurysm. But having a first-degree relative with a brain aneurysm can triple your risk to around 9.8 percent. This points to a genetic link.

Multiple genes may play a role and continue to be studied. Some of these genes are linked to ethnicity. Genetics may also influence how likely a brain aneurysm is to rupture.

Having certain genetic conditions also increases your risk for a brain aneurysm. They include:

Proven aneurysms in two or more first-degree relatives are called familial aneurysms. Familial aneurysms are similar to those without a familial link. But they may also have specific characteristics and tendencies.

For example, identical (monozygotic) twins were found in the Familial Intracranial Aneurysm Study to have cranial aneurysms in the same location within the brain.

This study also found that people with familial aneurysms are more likely to have multiple aneurysms than the general population.

A 2019 systematic review of studies found that familial aneurysms were most likely to be located on the middle cerebral artery.

Researchers also found that people with a family history of brain aneurysms were more likely to experience a rupture at a younger age than the general population. The average age at rupture for those with a family history was 46.5 years compared to 50.8 years for others.

If you have two or more first-degree relatives or an identical twin with a brain aneurysm, you may wish to consider screening. You may also wish to consider screening if you have a genetic condition predisposing you to this condition.

Doctors usually screen for unruptured brain aneurysms with noninvasive imaging studies that provide detailed images of the brain. This may be done using an MRI or CT scan.

You may also wish to talk with your doctor about having an intraarterial cerebral arteriography test, also known as a cerebral angiogram. This invasive test is the gold standard for testing. Doctors use it when imaging tests do not provide enough information.

Screening can be reassuring if doctors don’t find a brain aneurysm. But since aneurysms can form throughout life, you should get screened regularly.

There may also be drawbacks to screening. Your doctor may identify an aneurysm with a low chance of rupturing, which might cause unnecessary concern. They might also spot an aneurysm that they can’t treat.

Discuss these pros and cons with your doctor if you’re considering getting a screening.

Even though having a close relative with a brain aneurysm is a risk factor, most people with brain aneurysms don’t have a family history of this condition.

Other risk factors include:

  • certain genetic conditions like polycystic kidney disease
  • history of smoking cigarettes
  • high blood pressure
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • being over 50 years old

You can’t change your genetics, but you can change your lifestyle habits if they put you at risk. You can:

  • stop smoking
  • reduce or eliminate your alcohol intake
  • lower your high blood pressure with dietary changes, exercise, and weight loss if needed
  • using medication to reduce blood pressure

People with a family history of this condition should not smoke. Smoking is a significant risk factor for rupture.

If you have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about ways to control it. This may include taking medication, losing weight if needed, and dietary modifications like reducing salt intake.

Research suggests that brain aneurysms sometimes have a genetic link and can run in families. If you have two or more first-degree relatives or an identical twin with a brain aneurysm, talk with your doctor about screening.

Risk factors for this condition include high blood pressure, smoking, and heavy alcohol use. Whether or not you have a family history of this condition, eliminating these risk factors can help reduce your risk.

A ruptured or leaking brain aneurysm is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you suddenly have a very intense and severe headache, call emergency services or immediately go to an emergency department.