A New Year is a time for resolutions – a fresh start for many people who wish to make improvements in their lives. Some resolve to spend more time with family, others resolve to get organized, and many resolve to lose weight. Did you know that there are some New Year’s resolutions you can make that can lower your risk for a brain aneurysm formation or rupture? Now that the New Year is underway, here are 3 resolutions you need to make that may impact your risk, as recommended by Dr. Michael Chen:
Top 3 Brain Aneurysm Risk Factors and Resolutions
- Monitor your blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is a critical modifiable risk factor for brain aneurysms. It is associated with a 2 to 3 fold increase risk in stroke. High blood pressure is very common; many people over 60 years of age have higher than normal blood pressure. Hypertension is particularly common in African-Americans and Asians, and it usually runs in families.Elevated blood pressure causes wear and tear on the blood vessels that supply the brain with blood. The cells that compose the wall of your arteries (muscular vessels which transmit blood pumped by the heart to your brain) are constantly growing and remodeling in response to the pressure from the blood to try and maintain a consistent diameter. With increased pressure, those very cells may begin to remodel ineffectively, leading to a thinning of the wall, followed by an aneurysm forming.
High blood pressure is under-recognized and undertreated. One study has shown that a third of Americans have high blood pressure but did not know it. Another 15% have hypertension but are not receiving treatment. Another 25% were being treated but were not being well controlled. Only 27% had hypertension and were being adequately treated.
Home measurements using easy to use and available devices is important. Measurements every few months in the doctor’s office does not provide a true picture of everyday blood pressure levels. They tend to be higher in the doctor’s office, aka. white coat hypertension. Recording the blood pressure and pulse on your smartphone calendar, or on a paper calendar, and remembering to bring it into the office for your physician to review is essential to successfully controlling high blood pressure.
- Quit smoking and get active: This one, hands down, has only positive effects. You spend less money, you stop inhaling hundreds of toxic chemicals, you smell better, your teeth and fingers stop getting more and more yellow, and your blood pressure instantly drops. This drop in blood pressure can decrease the risk of a ruptured brain aneurysm. Some argue that weight gain after quitting smoking can be harmful; however, studies show that you would have to gain one hundred pounds to negate the positive effects of quitting smoking. Keep your diet similar to what it was before quitting and you will only reap benefits from kicking the habit. Regular exercise, which sounds cliché, and often difficult to carry out when juggling multiple other responsibilities, can have powerful therapeutic value in reducing the risk for aneurysms because of its benefit on hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol.
- Know your family history: Unfortunately, many people think of these risk factors and prevention only after they’ve been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. We now know that most medical risk factors and situations that increase the risk for a brain aneurysm begin rather early in life. It often begins with the knowledge that it may run in your family. People are often reluctant to discuss, particularly with their children, some of their own medical conditions. But this information would be important to know because a family history of hypertension, for example, raises the risk of subsequent generations in that family to develop the same thing.
Doctors say that there are a myriad of causes of the formation of brain aneurysms – including those mentioned above (blood pressure, smoking, and genetic factors), as well as circumstantial factors such as traumatic head injury; however, more research is needed to better understand causes of rupture. Two known causes of rupture are high blood pressure and smoking. Use these 3 New Year’s resolutions along with being aware of the symptoms to manage your risk of a ruptured brain aneurysm and you may save your life and spare your loved ones from unnecessary heartache.
The Bee Foundation works to raise awareness of brain aneurysms and to raise money for research on the prevention of this dangerous condition – please see our donation page if you wish to make a contribution to support these efforts.