Smokers Risk Brain Aneurysms

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Cigarette smoking can cause brain aneurysms, especially in young women, warn medical experts. An aneurysm occurs when the wall of a blood vessel balloons out, often because of high blood pressure. They are not always life-threatening, but one bursting in the brain can result in a stroke.

Sixty percent of people with a ruptured brain aneurysm either die or are left permanently disabled. About 30,000 Americans have a brain aneurysm rupture each year.

Nicotine attacks blood vessels in the brain, say researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "The warning on a pack of cigarettes doesn't mention brain aneurysm, and most people are surprised to find that can be a complication of cigarette smoking," says Dr. Thomas Kopitnik. "This is really a silent killer."

Kopitnik suggests that young women who smoke should check with their doctor about an aneurysm screening. "The screening involves doing an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain, and it can save your life if an aneurysm is detected," he says.