Being pregnant increases your risk of brain aneurysms. But brain aneurysms are uncommon in pregnancy, and early treatment can usually prevent severe outcomes.

child hugging pregnant parent while they look at a computerShare on Pinterest
FG Trade/Getty Images

Brain aneurysms aren’t common in pregnancy. Still, the risk of experiencing a brain aneurysm increases during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester and postpartum period.

Changes in blood flow and blood volume, coupled with hormonal changes, are thought to increase your risk of a brain aneurysm during pregnancy. But when you receive a diagnosis early, treatment can help decrease the chances of severe outcomes.

Here, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about brain aneurysms during pregnancy, including the most common symptoms, causes, risk factors, and how to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

A brain aneurysm, also called a cerebral aneurysm, occurs when an artery in your brain weakens. The artery then begins to balloon out, which can place pressure on your brain tissues and nerves. In some cases, the bulging area bursts, causing hemorrhaging in your brain. This can lead to stroke, coma, brain damage, or death.

Not all brain aneurysms burst or cause significant issues. But anyone with a brain aneurysm needs to be carefully monitored.

Again, brain aneurysms aren’t typical during pregnancy. At the same time, brain aneurysms are the most common cause of brain hemorrhage during pregnancy. Studies have found that the risk of having a brain aneurysm is about three times higher in pregnant and postpartum individuals than in nonpregnant individuals.

Although rare, brain aneurysms during pregnancy are considered a serious issue. Because untreated brain aneurysms during pregnancy can result in complications or death for you or your baby, if you receive a diagnosis of a brain aneurysm during pregnancy, you’ll be monitored carefully and receive prompt and comprehensive treatment, usually under the care of a neurologist.

Symptoms of brain aneurysms during pregnancy will vary from person to person. In the early stages, or in individuals who have small aneurysms, symptoms may be absent entirely.

The most common symptoms of brain aneurysms during pregnancy are:

  • a serious headache that comes on suddenly
  • decreased awareness or a loss of consciousness
  • sudden high blood pressure
  • seizures

Other symptoms common to aneurysms in general may be experienced during pregnancy. These include:

  • numbness or weakness, particularly on one side of your face
  • pain behind or above your eye
  • visions changes
  • dilated pupils
  • nausea, vomiting, or both
  • light sensitivity
  • stiff neck

It’s thought that the changes that happen in your body as a result of pregnancy contribute to the increased risks of brain aneurysms during pregnancy. These include changes in your blood and plasma volume, white and red blood cell count, and the production of hormones that help produce red blood cells.

Increased water retention as well as changes in your cardiac output likely also contribute to the increased risk of brain aneurysms during pregnancy.

Anyone can have a brain aneurysm during pregnancy, but certain individuals may be at increased risk. Here’s what to know:

  • Aneurysms are more likely to occur in pregnant people ages 30 years and older.
  • Aneurysms are more common in first pregnancies.
  • Aneurysms are most likely to occur in the third trimester.
  • Having a history of early menarche (first period) and no history of a previous pregnancy increases your risk.

Besides being in your third trimester of pregnancy, your risk of a brain aneurysm is increased in the early weeks following childbirth. Research has found that some people were most likely to experience a brain aneurysm during their early postpartum time, including:

  • parents of Black or Asian descent
  • parents with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, blood clotting issues, low platelet count, or substance misuse

When caught early and treated thoroughly, your risk of serious complications decreases. But research has found that people who don’t receive treatment during pregnancy have an increased risk of more hemorrhaging, as well as death. Lack of treatment also increases the risk of infant death.

As soon as you receive a diagnosis of a brain aneurysm during pregnancy, you’ll begin receiving treatment. Usually, a neurologist or neurosurgeon will need to be brought in, working alongside your reproductive care team.

The type of care you receive will depend on how severe your aneurysm is and where you are in your pregnancy. Treatment for brain aneurysms during pregnancy may involve:

  • Aneurysm clipping: Aneurysm clipping is a surgical procedure where blood flow to the aneurysm is cut off.
  • Endovascular coiling: This is a less invasive procedure that involves the placement of a small metal coil in the aneurysm.
  • Delivery of the baby: Your baby may need to be delivered immediately or early by either a vaginal or cesarean delivery (commonly referred to as a C-section), depending on your specific circumstances and health status.

It’s important to keep in mind that brain aneurysms are rare and that people who receive treatment right away have more favorable outcomes.

But sometimes brain aneurysms can be very serious. Studies have estimated that the rate of subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in your brain) is about 3–11 individuals for every 100,000 pregnancies. These studies also found that approximately 17% of fetuses in pregnancies of people with brain aneurysms die. And about 35% of people who have brain aneurysms while pregnant die.

Brain aneurysms during pregnancy must be diagnosed using imaging techniques that allow physicians to see detailed images of the inside of your brain. Imaging techniques that may be used include:

Although CT scans are usually not recommended for pregnant individuals because of fetal exposure to radiation, they may be used when a diagnosis is needed right away.

Although pregnancy increases your risk of brain aneurysms, they’re still rare. That said, if you develop one, the sooner you receive treatment, the better.

Brain aneurysms in pregnancy can be serious, and if you have possible symptoms of them — such as a sudden, severe headache or a decrease in consciousness — call 911 or local emergency services right away.