Smoking Linked With Deadly Brain Aneurysms

Feb. 16, 2000 (Atlanta) -- The deadly effects of smoking have again been shown, this time linked with causing cerebral aneurysms, a weakening of the wall of the brain's blood vessels that can potentially rupture and cause stroke and often death. In fact, smoking may cause multiple aneurysms to form in the brain, according to a study presented on Friday at a stroke conference in New Orleans.

Calling his findings statistically significant, lead author Satish Krishnamurthy, MD, tells WebMD, "While I don't think you can say that smoking definitely causes rupture of aneurysms, it's definitely a factor very closely related. [The data also] mean that smoking not only created the rupture, but also created the aneurysm. That's the new finding."

In the study of 275 people with aneurysms, the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine research team found that 72% of all aneurysm patients were smokers, and 40% had high blood pressure. Of those with ruptured aneurysms, 58% had hypertension, and 71% smoked.

Smoking was also linked as a possible cause of multiple aneurysms in patients. Of the 67 people who had several aneurysms, 75% had a history of smoking, says Krishnamurthy, a neurosurgical resident with the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. "Cerebral aneurysms are considered very deadly. Fifty percent of those with ruptured aneurysms will die. Of those who get to the hospital alive, only a small number have no permanent disability," he adds.

"The basic message is that smoking is bad," he adds. "It can cause sudden death by causing aneurysms. It can lead to sudden death, or, if you reach the hospital, only 30% will come out without any disability. It's a pretty devastating disease."

For objective commentary, WebMD turned to Daniel Barrow, MD, chair of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine. "There has been controversy over the years over the exact role that smoking and hyptertension play in regard to aneurysm formation and aneurysm rupture. What remains a real problem is that we don't really know what causes aneurysms. It may well be that individuals are born with a weak area in the wall of the blood vessel that predisposes them to aneurysm formation, and the aneurysm forms during life. That process may be influenced by environmental factors such as hypertension or smoking. Those people who are predisposed may or may not develop an aneurysm. This is the type of study that suggests that type of relationship ... raises your level of suspicion and provides yet another reason to tell people not to smoke."

Vital Information:

  • Researchers say smoking may cause the brain's blood vessels to develop multiple aneurysms, or weak spots. These weak spots can rupture and cause bleeding that can lead to stroke, disability, and death.
  • Doctors note that half the patients who suffer a ruptured aneurysm in their brain will die. Most of the survivors have permanent disability.
  • Observers say they are not certain whether some people are born more vulnerable to brain aneurysms than others. If so, environmental factors like smoking and high blood pressure may trigger the problem.