Vasospasm is a narrowing of the vessels that deliver blood to the body’s tissue, and may cause that portion of the body to stop working properly. Vasospasm of the vessels that supply the brain can occur after a bleed from an aneurysm in the head, and is the most significant complication of this kind of bleed (subarachnoid hemorrhage). The bleeding caused by an aneurysm surrounds the major blood vessels of the brain and causes them to narrow resulting in vasospasm. If the spasm is severe enough to prevent enough blood from reaching the brain, the patient can suffer a stroke. Of patients that survive the bleed from the aneurysm, 5% to 20% die from vasospasm. In up to 50 percent of head injury cases, vasospasm may be seen.
The use of drugs to help prevent vasospasm or spasm in the brain vessels has decreased the occurrence of this condition in recent years. Once vasospasm does occur (usually 4 to 12 days after an aneurysm has bled), several treatments may be used to re-open the vessels and prevent damage to the brain. These may include medical therapy to increase the blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain, placement of a catheter in the arteries going to the brain in order to allow injection of a drug directly into the arteries to dilate (open) them, or placing a catheter fitted with a balloon into the vessels and stretching them open (angioplasty). The procedure or procedures that are used depend on how severe the spasm is and where in the blood vessels it occurs.