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YOUR HEALTH: The patch that could stop strokes

You may have a brain aneurysm and not even know it until it's too late.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One person every 18 minutes will suffer a brain aneurysm and they'll be at risk of dying or suffering a stroke. 

Treating an aneurysm before it bursts is the only way to survive.

Now, surgeons have a new way to save some of the hardest to treat patients like Daniel Reyes.

"I started to get like delirious and dizzy," Daniel remembered. "It felt like I had a migraine, but like there was a spoon digging outward."

That's what it can feel like to have a brain aneurysm or a weakening of a blood vessel.

"So, a rupture brain aneurysm is a deadly situation," said Baptist Health of Jacksonville neurologist Dr. Ricardo Hanel.

Catching it before it ruptures is key

Right now, doctors use surgical clipping, a tiny metal clip to stop blood flow to it. Or they use endovascular coiling, a soft platinum wire coiled up inside the aneurysm that seals it off.

A pipeline flex embolization device patches the aneurysm from the inside. 

Now, there's a clinical trial using a newly developed patch to treat hard-to-reach brain aneurysms.

"So, think about they're coming on the road. There's a road going left going, right? The aneurysm is right on the middle of the fork, top of the fork," explained Dr. Hanel.

Dr. Hanel is the first physician in the U.S. clinical trial to use the Contour Neurovascular System to patch aneurysms that occur at the branching points of the arteries. 

The device is a nitinol mesh shaped like a wine glass or challis. It cuts off the blood to an aneurysm that is in danger of rupturing.

"If you find aneurysms before it bleeds, you can prevent a stroke that is potentially catastrophic, four of ten chance of dying," he said.

"It's phenomenal when we find this before they bleed, and we can treat them safely and eliminate their risk of stroke."

The Contour system is in a clinical trial being performed in 20 neurointervention centers across the country including Advocate Aurora Health in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge.

It is not yet FDA approved but it is already available in Europe and India.

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Diagnosing is a huge preventive measure

Most brain aneurysms, if caught before rupturing, are found in a CAT scan or during an MRS.

Some patients may experience headaches or dizziness but most don't feel anything until it ruptures. 

Women, particularly those over the age of 55, have a higher risk of rupture.

Brain aneurysms develop silently and some people may have inherited a tendency for weak blood vessels, which may lead to the development of aneurysms. 

Aneurysms in children are rare, and most aneurysms probably develop as a result of wear and tear on the arteries throughout a person's lifetime.

Occasionally, severe head trauma or infection may lead to the development of an aneurysm. 

Some risk factors associated with brain aneurysms include: 

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • A strong family history of brain aneurysms 
  • Having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Fibromuscular dysplasia
  • Congenital abnormality in the artery
  • An abundance of drug and alcohol usage
  • Infection
  • Severe head trauma

People of color, women and people over the age of 40 also have an increased risk of developing a brain aneurysm.

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Doctors discover new link

A study published in BMJ Open has, for the first time, measured a link between variations in the size of the brain's arteries and the likelihood of a cerebral aneurysm, providing scientists with a new screening tool to monitor people at risk.

Lead researcher, University of South Australia neuroanatomist, Dr. Arjun Burlakoti, says imaging tests of 145 patients showed that people with asymmetric brain arteries have a significantly higher chance of developing an aneurysm, a ballooned vessel in the brain, that can rupture and cause a hemorrhagic stroke. 

Based on the research findings Dr. Burlakoti says that MRI and CT angiograms can determine whether people have asymmetrical brain arteries and if so, says they should be screened regularly for cerebral aneurysms. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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