Women have been shown to have a higher risk of cerebral aneurysm formation, growth, and rupture than men. The authors present a review of the recently published neurosurgical literature that studies the role of pregnancy and female sex steroids, to provide a conceptual framework with which to understand the various risk factors associated with cerebral aneurysms in women at different stages in their lives.
The PubMed database was searched for “(“intracranial” OR “cerebral”) AND “aneurysm” AND (“pregnancy” OR “estrogen” OR “progesterone”)” between January 1980 and February 2019. A total of 392 articles were initially identified, and after applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, 20 papers were selected for review and analysis. These papers were then divided into two categories: 1) epidemiological studies about the formation, growth, rupture, and management of cerebral aneurysms in pregnancy; and 2) investigations on female sex steroids and cerebral aneurysms (animal studies and epidemiological studies).
The 20 articles presented in this study include 7 epidemiological articles on pregnancy and cerebral aneurysms, 3 articles reporting case series of cerebral aneurysms treated by endovascular therapies in pregnancy, 3 epidemiological articles reporting the relationship between female sex steroids and cerebral aneurysms through retrospective case-control studies, and 7 experimental studies using animal and/or cell models to understand the relationship between female sex steroids and cerebral aneurysms. The studies in this review report similar risk of aneurysm rupture in pregnant women compared to the general population. Most ruptured aneurysms in pregnancy occur during the 3rd trimester, and most pregnant women who present with cerebral aneurysm have caesarean section deliveries. Endovascular treatment of cerebral aneurysms in pregnancy is shown to provide a new and safe form of therapy for these cases. Epidemiological studies of postmenopausal women show that estrogen hormone therapy and later age at menopause are associated with a lower risk of cerebral aneurysm than in matched controls. Experimental studies in animal models corroborate this epidemiological finding; estrogen deficiency causes endothelial dysfunction and inflammation, which may predispose to the formation and rupture of cerebral aneurysms, while exogenous estrogen treatment in this population may lower this risk.
The aim of this work is to equip the neurosurgical and obstetrical/gynecological readership with the tools to better understand, critique, and apply findings from research on sex differences in cerebral aneurysms.