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Ioannis Loumiotis, Robert D. Brown Jr., Roanna Vine, Harry J. Cloft, David F. Kallmes and Giuseppe Lanzino

Object

The management of incidental small unruptured intracranial aneurysms (UIAs) is controversial and many factors need to be considered in the decision-making process. The authors describe a large consecutive series of patients harboring small incidental intracranial aneurysms. Treatment strategy, natural history, complications, and short-term outcomes are presented.

Methods

Between January 2008 and May 2011, the authors prospectively evaluated 212 patients with 272 small (< 10-mm) incidental aneurysms. Treatment recommendations (observation, endovascular treatment, or surgery), complications of treatment, and short-term outcomes were assessed.

Results

Recommended treatment consisted of observation in 125 patients, endovascular embolization in 64, and surgery in 18. Six patients were excluded from further analysis because they underwent treatment elsewhere. In the observation group, at a mean follow-up of 16.7 months, only 1 patient was moved to the embolization group. Seven (6%) of the 125 patients in the observation group died of causes unrelated to aneurysm. Sixty-five patients underwent 69 embolization procedures. The periprocedural permanent morbidity and mortality rates in patients undergoing endovascular treatment were 1.5% and 1.5%, respectively (overall morbidity and mortality rate 3.0%). In the surgery group no periprocedural complications were observed, although 1 patient did not return to her previous occupation. No aneurysmal rupture was documented in any of the 3 treatment groups during the follow-up period.

Conclusions

A cautious and individualized approach to incidental UIAs is of utmost importance for formulation of a safe and effective treatment algorithm. Invasive treatment (either endovascular or surgery) can be considered in selected younger patients, certain “higher-risk” locations, expanding aneurysms, patients with a family history of aneurysmal hemorrhage, and in those who cannot live their lives knowing that they harbor the UIA. Although the complication rate of invasive treatment is very low, it is not negligible. The study confirms that small incidental UIAs deemed to be not in need of treatment have a very benign short-term natural history, which makes observation a reasonable approach in selected patients.