Brain Aneurysms | Diagnosis and Treatment

We use a variety of imaging technologies to diagnose aneurysms, understand their anatomic location and structure, and assess the status of the surrounding arteries and the overall condition of the brain. Specific tests may include:


CT (computed tomography) uses x-ray equipment and powerful computers to create detailed, cross-sectional images (often called “slices”) of the head, neck and brain. Most CT scans are performed in seconds, although it can take 10 minutes or longer to position the child correctly for the exam. It is noninvasive, highly accurate and provides more detailed images of the bony and soft tissue structure of the head and neck than conventional x-rays. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves and advanced computer processing to produce 2- and 3-dimensional images of the head, neck and brain. MRI is noninvasive and is critical in helping to evaluate conditions that may not be assessed adequately with other imaging technologies. 

  • MRI uses no x-rays or radiation exposure of any kind.
  • Sometimes a contrast dye is injected through an IV during scanning to get a better image.
  • The child must lie still inside an MRI scanner—a large, tube-shaped magnet—sometimes requiring her to be sedated.
  • In response to the magnetic field and the radio waves of the scanner, water molecules in the body give off tiny pulses of energy. A computer constructs detailed images out of these pulses, showing the head, neck and brain anatomy. 

Cerebral angiography, sometimes called cerebral arteriography or catheter angiography, produces the most detailed images of the blood vessels of the neck, head and brain, using live x-rays.

  • The neuroradiologist or neurointerventionalist inserts a small needle into the femoral artery in the groin. Then, the specialist introduces a soft, thin wire that guides a catheter up to the arteries leading to the brain region containing the aneurysm.
  • A special dye, injected through the catheter, allows the radiologist to more clearly see the aneurysm, as well as the pattern of arteries and veins surrounding it. The catheter also can be used to deliver treatments from within the vessels.
  • Cerebral angiography can take from 30 minutes to several hours, and in almost all children, it is performed under general anesthesia. After the angiogram, patients lie flat for four hours in the recovery room; during this time, with their parents close by, they can sleep, watch TV or use a handheld device.
  • We ask patients not to do vigorous exercise for several days after the procedure, although they can return to school as soon as they are ready to do so. Read more about angiograms.

CT angiography (CTA) uses the technology of a conventional CT scan, along with an injected special dye (known as contrast) to generate images of the blood vessels of the upper chest, neck and brain.

  • CTA generates images somewhat similar to those seen with cerebral catheter angiography, but since the dye is injected into a vein through a standard IV, rather than into an artery, CTA is less invasive.
  • During the test, the child must lie still on a table that slides slowly through a donut-shaped device. A computer constructs 3D images of the blood vessels from the CTA images.
  • Young children may need sedation to keep them still.