Early diagnosis of brain aneurysms

December 9, 2008 3:45:42 PM PST
Brain aneurysms impact up to one in 15 Americans and carry deadly consequences. Now, those who are fortunate to spot the warning signs early now have a new line of defense. Doctors call it a ticking time bomb in the brain that can explode with devastating results. A brain aneurysm is the ballooning of a blood vessel that can burst and lead to death. Now, some doctors are using a computer program to save the lives of aneurym patients.

Rebecca Gadberry lives a fairy-tale life. Her family includes a devoted husband, Mark, and son, Kyle, who rarely leaves his mom's side.

"Because she does nice stuff to me," Kyle said.

Suddenly, Rebecca's story changed, when she was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.

"You just feel your world crashing in," she said.

"First day, we were in shock, kind of numb," Mark said. "Second day, I think we cried all day."

Rebecca found out she had an aneurysm, a bulging blood vessel in her brain.

"I had a bomb in my head that could go off at any minute," she said.

If an aneurysm ruptures, one-third of patients die immediately. Another third die within a month and survivors may face neurological problems.

"Once it ruptures, it's horrible," said Dr. Satoshi Tateshima, an interventional neuroradiologist at the Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Computer software gets rid of some of the guessing and gives neurosurgeons a glimpse into the future.

"We can reconstruct 3D aneurysms in a virtual space," Dr. Tateshima said.

The program simulates blood flow direction, speed and friction in an aneurysm. The more friction, the greater chance for disaster. In Rebecca's case, the model predicted her aneurysm was in danger of bursting. It helped her make a decision to have surgery immediately.

Six months later, Rebecca visited the doctor who saved her life and saw what could have happened in her brain.

Doctors say the software gives them more control.

"The more we know about the enemy, the better fight we can make," Dr. Tateshima said.

Women between the ages of 35 and 60 are more likely to have a brain aneurysm that men. UCLA and George Mason universities are to only two centers using this software, on a grant from the federal government. It may be available in hospitals within a couple years.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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