Medical plans don’t include the mention of “routine” MRI screenings for a brain aneurysm.
And this seems pretty odd, given that often, the first symptom of such an aneurysm is a thunderclap headache soon followed by death.
Though you won’t find a recommendation for annual brain aneurysm screenings in your medical plan’s booklet, annual MRI’s are recommended for those individuals who are at high risk.
“The prevalence of brain aneurysm by radiographic and autopsy series ranges from 0.4 to 6.0 percent,” says Farhan Siddiq, MD, co-medical director of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, and endovascular neurosurgeon, Texas Health Fort Worth.
“In the adult population, without any risk factors, two percent may have an unruptured aneurysm,” says Dr. Siddiq, a member of North Texas Neurosurgical & Spine Center, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice.
“The most effective and safe test for screening is an MR-angiogram.”
This is a type of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that uses a dye or contrast solution, injected into the patient, that lights up on the screen to reveal the telltale bulges of blood vessel aneurysms.
As simple as this seems, there’s a reason why this procedure is not part of one’s routine wellness checks as is, for instance, the mammogram, colonoscopy and cholesterol checks.
“Because of the high cost of MRA, along with the low frequency of aneurysms in the general population, routine screening would not be cost-effective,” says Dr. Siddiq.
What exactly is an aneurysm?
It is a bulge in a blood vessel. Often they are discovered by accident when someone undergoes a head scan for an unrelated issue.
Symptoms include a drooping eyelid, double vision and pupils of marked unequal size.
Dr. Siddiq adds, “Possibly, in the future, we may have better, faster and cheaper tests, which would make it more feasible for routine screening.”
High blood pressure and smoking are risk factors for a ruptured aneurysm.
An MRI is a much better tool than is the CT scan for identification of this abnormality.