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Early Brain Scans for Babies Mitigate Stroke Risk in Adulthood

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In a novel study, researchers found that despite improvements in medicine, brain aneurysm patterns have remained steady over time, meaning that variations in brain vessels could be easily detected early in life.

Published in BMJ Open, the study examined 260 years of data to systematically assess long-term trends of brain aneurysms, which can be a cause of stroke.

Globally, stroke is the second leading cause of death. Every year, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke. Of these, five million die and another five million are left permanently disabled, placing a significant burden on families, the community, and the economy.

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In Australia, statistics show that stroke kills more women than breast cancer, and more men than prostate cancer. One Australian will experience a stroke every 19 minutes.

More than 80% of stokes can be prevented. The estimated cost of a single stroke is approximately $300,000 in Australia so identifying early signs is not only a key to prevention, but a step towards saving the economy millions.

Lead researcher and neuroanatomy expert, UniSA’s Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Neuroanatomy Dr Arjun Burlakoti, says detecting variations in brain vessels in children could prevent stroke late in life.

“A cerebral - or brain- aneurysm is a bulge in the artery to the brain. It’s caused by a weakness in an artery wall. And if a cerebral aneurysm bursts, it could cause a stroke,” Dr Burlakoti says.

“Cerebral aneurysms can develop at any age. And while the most common age for diagnosis is between 31-60 years, the incidence of childhood brain aneurysms is almost equivalent to that of adults. The incidence of childhood aneurysms can be comparable to that in adults because the childhood period of life is much shorter than adulthood.

“Our study not only shows that aneurysms occur and rupture on their internal circumstances, but also that any brain vessel variations are likely to be present from birth.

“What this means is that if we can identify variations in the brain arterial network in childhood, we can more actively monitor and check at-risk people throughout their life.”

The researchers recommend using a non-invasive, transcranial Doppler ultrasound to scan babies and children for brain vessel variations. This painless test uses sound waves to examine blood flow in and around the brain and detect variations in the blood vessels.

They say that the screening method could enable timely intervention and potentially prevent aneurysms and stroke-related complications.

“Screening variant arterial components in children, particularly those under two years old, could be a practical tool for screening variant brain arteries,” Dr Burlakoti says.

“This is a safe, non-invasive screening test that presents a path for families to regularly follow-up if any variations are detected.

“If you could reduce the risk through a simple screening test, why wouldn’t you?”

Reference: Burlakoti A, Kumaratilake J, Taylor J, Henneberg M. Trend of cerebral aneurysms over the past two centuries: need for early screening. BMJ Open. 2024;14(2):e081290. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2023-081290

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