New research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry reveals the worrying incidence of aneurysms (a weakened bulge in an artery) in the brains of female smokers. The “ticking time bomb” vascular abnormalities can be fatal if they rupture and are even more common in smokers with high blood pressure. This puts the group at seven times the risk of an aneurysm compared to female non-smokers.
Aneurysms can be large or small and occur in just about any artery in the body, with many going undiagnosed and unnoticed for the entirety of a person’s life. However, other aneurysms – particularly those in the brain – can push on surrounding structures and cause fatal bleeds if they rupture. Approximately 6.5 million people are thought to be walking around with an unruptured brain aneurysm in the United States.
Certain factors such as your family history and presence of kidney disease can increase a person’s risk of developing a brain aneurysm, but this study wanted to establish if being female and a smoker had any connection. The researchers analyzed the brain scans of 545 women aged 30 to 60 at teaching and research hospitals in Canada and the USA from 2016 to 2018. The scans revealed that 152 of the 545 women had 185 unruptured brain aneurysms between them, meaning some women had more than one.
Among those with abnormal brain scans, high blood pressure as well as a history of smoking or currently smoking applied to 46 percent and 57.5 percent of women respectively. Brain aneurysms specifically tended to be higher in smokers with a habit of around 20 a day and a history of 29 years on average. The most common complaint that prompted the scan was a headache, which was present in 62.5 percent of the women with brain aneurysms and 44 percent of those without.
A direct comparison of the smoking and non-smoking patients revealed smokers were four times as likely to have a brain aneurysm compared to non-smokers, a state that rose to seven times if they also had chronic high blood pressure.
The study authors, however, recognize that as an observational study, no direct causation can be drawn from the analysis of these brain scans and the findings cannot be generalized to all age groups. However, they conclude that the findings merit that “consideration should be given to screening for [unruptured brain aneurysms] in women aged between 30 and 60 years who smoke cigarettes.”