(UTRECHT, Netherlands) -- New research from the Netherlands, published Thursday, offers some insight into how certain everyday activities and emotional states, such as having sex, drinking caffeinated drinks and being startled can increase the likelihood of an aneurysm erupting.
A brain aneurysm rupture can occur when a section of brain artery becomes weakened, resulting in stroke or hemorrhaging. Although the effects of a ruptured aneurysm can be devastating, it's important to remember that aneurysms themselves are somewhat rare: It is estimated that between 2 percent and 5 percent of Americans live with a brain aneurysm, and the vast majority will never experience a rupture. Among those who do, half will die, and half of those who survive will live with permanent disability.
Doctors suspect that a sudden increase in blood pressure puts strain on the wall of an aneurysm, increasing the chances that it will break, says Dr. Khaled Aziz, director of the Center for Complex Intracranial Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Thursday's study, which identifies eight activities or states most associated with a rupture, supports this theory: They can all be tied to a sudden spike in blood pressure.
"We want to sort out whether the prescription of anti-hypertensive drugs in persons with [brain aneurysms] may prevent the growth and rupture of these aneurysms," says Dr. Ale Algra, co-author of the study and a neurologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Doctors have long had anecdotal evidence that certain activities, such as sex or straining on the toilet, were risk factors for ruptures, but this study is the first to assess just how risky these behaviors can be for those who have aneurysms.
The following are the eight routine activities that researchers found to be associated with an increased risk of aneurysm rupture.
Daily Cup O' Joe: Drinking coffee was the risk factor most commonly associated with a ruptured aneurysm, although the study found it increased the likelihood of rupture only slightly.
Vigorous Exercise: Vigorous physical exercise has also been a well-noted trigger for an aneurysm rupture, and Thursday's study found that hard exercise upped risk of rupture 3.5 times.
Drinking Soda: Caffeine is most likely the culprit behind the 3.4 increased risk of rupture noted among those who drank soda in the hour before their aneurysm ruptured. Cola may be more apt to ramp up caffeine intake because people tend to drink more of it than they would coffee.
Sex and Masturbation: Researchers found that sexual intercourse increased risk of rupture by 11.2 times, while masturbation increased it by 5.9 times.
A Shock or Startle: Although seemingly insignificant, a simple startle was enough to increase risk of rupture by 23.3 times -- the most significant trigger found in the study.
Getting Worked Up: Anger was the only emotional trigger of significance, the researchers found. Study participants were 6.3 times more likely to suffer a rupture if they got worked up about something in the hour preceding it.
Blowing Your Nose: Blowing one's nose increased the risk of rupture 2.4-fold. Aziz said this was often true as well for coughing, because both activities increase pressure inside the skull, which in turn increases the chance that the weakened artery will burst.
Straining on the Toilet: Last but not least, straining on the toilet while constipated was another common risk factor, both in the study and anecdotally among doctors who treat aneurysms. It was also one of the few that doctors recommend treating in those with identified aneurysms.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
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