There's a new treatment to stop deadly brain aneurysms before they rupture.
One in 15 people will develop a brain aneurysm at some point in their life. They happen when an artery starts to abnormally bulge outward. If it goes undiscovered, it can rupture and that can lead to stroke, brain damage or even death.
"I kept having headaches, really bad headaches and they told me it was nothing, really bad migraines," said Gail Lawrence.
But, when Gail Lawrence started experiencing jaw pain and swelling on top of her painful headaches, she went to the hospital. That's when doctors discovered a large aneurysm in her brain.
Gail Lawrence’s aneurysm was big and it could have been deadly. Not too long ago the only option for her would have been brain surgery. The kind where they open up your skull and put a clamp on the vessel, but now a new procedure is helping patients like Gail avoid that kind of surgery.
“It happens to be a very simple concept. What it does it restores the wall of the vessel," says Dr. Wayne Olan.
George Washington university hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Wayne Olan says brain aneurysms form when the wall of a blood vessel starts to bulge. Pressure from blood flow can make the bulge bigger, causing it to eventually rupture.
Now doctors are using a new device called pipeline. It's actually a stent for the brain that's implanted using a catheter that goes through an artery in the thigh. So there's no brain surgery involved.
"The pipeline device forms a new wall of the blood vessel, a nice normal wall. It lets the body heal the aneurysm, prevents the blood from getting in there, taking away the risk of rupture," says Dr. Olan.
Olan says in about three months, the body will naturally shrink the aneurysm and all side effects like those painful headaches, should go away on their own.
"The alternatives for her and a lot of other patients is surgery. Now it is a safe option and it's done well, but it's much more traumatic. The recoveries are usually much longer and carry with them some other risks," says Dr. Olan.
Another newer procedure also involves going through the femoral artery to get to the brain. Doctors simply fill the aneurysm with platinum metal. But that procedure puts patients at higher risk of side effects, including creating new bleeds in the brain.
"This procedure only took about an hour and 10 minutes. She never got a haircut, never got her skull cut open. She went home the next day," says Dr. Olan.
Gail Lawrence was the first person at GW hospital to undergo the pipeline procedure. She says the procedure wasn't painful. In fact, after three days of recovering at home, she was out and about.
"I feel good. I feel like I’m really blessed," says Gail.
Gail Lawrence is very lucky that doctors were able to discover her aneurysm before it ruptured. But they recently found two more in her brain. Soon she'll undergo another surgery using the new pipeline device.